Outside any given Harry Styles concert, you’ll see a smattering of feathers and sequins leading towards the venue. At the end of this flamboyant trail you’ll find thousands of fans, decked out in outfits drawing inspiration from or paying homage to the superstar. Since last September, when Styles’ Love On Tour began across the Atlantic, fans have been sharing their outfit ideas on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok under the hashtag #HSLOTOutfit. Now, with the European leg in full swing, the already thriving trend has elevated, with the hashtag garnering over 200 million views on TikTok (and counting).
To some, months of planning and endless nights spent glue-gunning rhinestones to Lycra flares, just for a two-hour event, might seem pointless. But for Harries (the nickname given to Styles’ fans) there is a genuine joy and camaraderie in prepping for one of his shows.
"I went to the first Manchester show and it was my first concert since lockdown," says Bella Troy-Williamson, a 23-year-old paralegal from Newcastle who went viral on Twitter after using the hashtag to show off her hand-crocheted sunflower dress. "I started crocheting over lockdown so when I got the tickets I felt that I wanted to do something special and also challenge myself. He’s got a song called 'Sunflower' so I thought, Yes, sunflower dress. Let’s go with it."
For Troy-Williamson, who has been a Styles fan since his One Direction days, going viral was never the intention. She just wanted to share her outfit with like-minded people who’d appreciate her effort without passing judgment. "I wouldn't spend three months making a dress for any other artist because there's the risk that I would be out of place in the crowd," she continues. "But I knew that for some reason it would be appreciated and understood at a Harry gig."
Concert fashion is typically characterized by artist merchandise but this trend signals a shift towards curated concert looks akin to the flower crowns and facial glitter seen at the height of festival fashion. For many fans, going to a concert is a similar experience and often an all-day affair. With many Styles fans camping outside venues overnight to ensure they get the best possible view, effectively creating their own festival-esque experience, dressing up adds an extra bit of excitement and distracts from the reality that they’ve pitched their tents on the concrete pavements of sports stadiums as opposed to the fields of Glastonbury or Coachella.
Meshaa Isaac has been to several nights of the tour, even traveling to Los Angeles from the UK last year. A Styles fan from the age of 9, Isaac is now 21 years old and many of her real-life friends originate from the community of fellow fans that has been built on social media. "On your TikTok For You Page, you often see the same people and you start interacting with them," she says. "When they’re also fans, you end up forming connections with them and even becoming friends."
Given the popularity of the trend on TikTok, it would be easy to assume that this community is made up solely of Gen Z fans. However, 33-year-old Laurel Melsom, a London-based content creator, has found comfort in the community after a few years during which it has been particularly elusive. "The only way to communicate with people over lockdown was through the internet so I met up with a few friends for the first time at different shows," she says. "I have built up a community of people from Instagram that have now become friends and we all go to shows together."
In Melsom's opinion, Covid lockdowns didn’t just bring an already dedicated fanbase closer together. The uncertainty of the pandemic is partially what’s motivated so many people to forgo the typical jeans-and-a-nice-top combination. "I think people have wanted to go that extra mile because you don't know if it's ever going to be taken away from you again," she says.
That "extra mile" is evidenced by the sheer amount of bespoke outfits, with some fans even enlisting outside help. Without her own Harry Lambert (Styles' longtime stylist) at her disposal, Melsom commissioned a friend of hers to create an outfit for Styles’ Manchester show in the spirit of the singer's outfit in his "As It Was" music video. The collaboration highlights the fact that dressing for a Harry Styles show is a joint effort. "We just went back and forth and tweaked it a little bit to make it more of an inspiration instead of a copy," says Melsom. "It made it feel a little bit more special as it was made to fit me. It was so nice to have people come up to me and say they liked the outfit."
There are other artists, like Dua Lipa and BTS, with similarly dedicated fanbases but the general public has been part of Styles’ sartorial journey for the best part of a decade. Arguably, creatives on TikTok have sought to mirror this by taking their fans along with them as they experiment with their own style. Helped by Lambert, Styles has cultivated a position as a modern fashion icon with a clear aesthetic that emphasizes bright colors and textured pieces, and a temperament that is equal parts whimsical and cool. For fans of all ages, it's an accessible style that is easy to replicate (without the Gucci price tag).
The time and money that Harries spend on their outfits has the potential to cause competition and anxiety but Isaac suggests that Styles’ mantra – "treat people with kindness" – curbs fans’ fears. They are inherently encouraged to dress and spend within their means. "The fans really do stick to that motto. Everyone that goes to a Harry Styles concert will agree that it’s a safe space and a judgment-free zone so you're not really dressing up to impress other people. It's just fun for yourself."
Troy-Williamson agrees, pointing to inclusivity as a factor in her comfort in dressing up. "I think it's a really supportive fanbase. It's quite inclusive and the atmosphere is so positive," she says. Critics of Styles might be tempted to dismiss the verve and dedication of his fandom as hysteria but for these fans, open-mindedness, belonging and, most importantly, enjoyment are their sole concerns.