Modern Masculinity, Breaking Gender Norms

Crediting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks for pioneering a new wave in fashion

Meara Sullivan, Staff Writer

In Vogue Magazine’s December 2020 issue, Harry Styles, an acclaimed singer-songwriter, dawned the cover in a Gucci designed ball gown. With the release of this image came two narratives. One, wrongfully stressed that men in dresses “undermines masculinity” and, the other, praised Styles for his ‘revolutionary’ clothing choices. While Styles’ cover image is an important step in eliminating gender-conforming fashion, he is hardly the first to attempt this challenge. 

Alok Vaid-Menon, an author, performer, and speaker, took to Instagram and eloquently expressed the larger problem at the center of the Vogue cover, explaining, “Am I happy to see Harry be celebrated for openly flouting gendered fashion norms? Yes. Do trans femmes of color receive praise for doing the same thing every day? No.” 

Gucci designer Alessandro Michelle has applauded Styles, repeatedly describing his dressing as revolutionary. But Styles is not revolutionary. Many marginalized groups have been mocked and even killed for self-expression through clothing, and Vogue has failed to award due credit. 

From A$AP Rocky to Jaden Smith, numerous Black celebrities have similarly stretched the bounds of fashion. However, they have not gained the same level of media attention as Styles. Billy Porter is a prime example of this discrepancy. Porter, an actor, and a singer, wore a tuxedo dress to the Academy Awards in Jan. of 2020 and has been a consistent advocate for gender-nonconforming fashion throughout his career. Yet, he received little media attention, unlike Styles. 

Styles is the first solo male to appear on the cover of Vogue, an important milestone. However, in an article for Insider, Rachel Askinasi writes that in choosing Styles for the cover of the magazine, “[Vogue] strayed from its status quo in the most status quo way possible.” Askinasi exclaimed in her writing that she would have preferred to see Billy Porter, a true pioneer of the movement, on the cover. 

With that being said, we shouldn’t dismiss Styles’ courageous fashion choices and Vogue’s willingness to portray it on such a large scale. We must ask that Black celebrities like Billy Porter, receive equal media recognition and remember the struggle of those before Styles in addressing gendered fashion norms. The same Instagram user as prior, Vaid-Menon, explained, “We can both acknowledge this unprecedented moment while also remembering that it could only happen because of the resistance of trans femmes of color.”