Harry Styles quite literally broke the Internet, garnering over 9 million likes on Instagram, of his first Vogue cover. Donning a Gucci gown, Styles stands as the first-ever solo male to do so. His gender-defying appearance has brought both adoration and contention to the table. Many have applauded him for taking steps to overtly represent gender-neutrality in fashion but conservative critics reject his stepping out of the rigid lines between male and female. His work, however, as masks the decades of gender-defying that other artists and designers have done to pave the way for him to act heretofore – it’s not just Harry Styles.
Unisex fashion in the modern day can largely be attributed to the year 1968, a time where both the feminist ideals of the Women’s Movement and the global Space Race contributed to a ‘Space Age’ in fashion. In her book Sex and Unison: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution, University of Maryland professor Jo Paoletti references Paris runways on which designers like Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges delved into the idea of exploration in simple silhouettes and synthetic fabrics, helping to muddy the burgeoning gender of clothes. Cardin’s “Cosmocorps” collection particularly highlighted unisexism offering zipped sweaters and belted jumpsuits that could be worn by both men and women.
Unisex clothing only persisted temporarily, however, ironically acting as agents of promoting gendered clothing rather than ambiguity. Paoletti writes “part of the appeal of adult unisex fashion was the sexy contrast between the wearer and the clothes, which actually called attention to the male or female body.” Gendered fashion then naturally became characterized by their target audiences, there only two “boy or girl” definitions for clothes.
Since the 1990s, this trend has hiccuped to famous fashion brands that have established non-binary fashion as a progressive movement. Moreso, it became attached to celebrity media helping to set a playing field for others. Think Kurt Cobain in a traditional baby doll dress slap on the cover of “The Face” or gender-defying performances given by Prince. Either way, genderfluid fashion was now unsheathed from the world of high-end runway fashion and exposed to the general public via these popular faces. It makes sense as to why TeenVogue had to write and title an entire article deattributing the movement to these pop stars.
At present, there is a new creative collective that has taken the reins on genderfluid fashion. Though Harry Styles is at the forefront, sporting many iconic looks like Marc Jacobs at the Brit Awards and his Met Gala work by Gucci genius Alessandro Michele, there have been others that paved the road that Styles now leads on. Jaden Smith has appeared as an advocate of androgynous dressing since starring in Louis Vuitton’s SS16 womenswear campaign. He has also started his own gender-neutral clothing line MSFTSrep. But Styles’ work should not be consequently discredited as it takes multiple kegs to make a cultural change occur.
And we can look forward to where that came from.
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