Where should we start? We could go way back, if we wanted to. Get all esoteric and historical and shit. But instead, how about we start with David Bowie? You know. Skinny English guy. Global sex symbol. Wore outlandish catsuits and scarves and a lot of makeup for a while there. Came onto the scene in the '60s and somehow, remarkably, didn't destroy Western civilization in the more than five decades he spent as an international superstar.
Or how about Prince? The Purple One. Arrived a little later than Bowie. Guy slithered around in frilly shirts and frock coats wearing heaps of eyeliner. Owner of a falsetto sent down by the gods themselves and then drenched in honey and ambrosia. Women loved him. HUGE in the '80s. Had his fashion acolytes, no doubt, but did not, remarkably, trigger the collapse of manhood and masculinity as we know it.
Or, hell, want to talk about Nirvana? Three dudes from Seattle. Changed the face of popular music in the early '90s. Wore dresses, like, kind of a lot. Wore them with a sneer and a swagger that made them feel not just subversive but aggressive. Somehow, this time not so remarkably, didn't usher in "a referendum on masculinity for men to don floofy dresses."
Ah, shit. Yeah. Sorry. Now's the time when we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Or, I dunno, the fast-talking angry boy in the room. Call him what you will. Here's Ben Shapiro, engaging with Candace Owens, to tell us that Harry Styles wearing a dress on the cover of American Vogue isn't what it is. No! It is not just one of the biggest musicians on the planet doing what so many before him have done. It's an attack! On men! And, therefore, an attack on the very fabric of society:
This is perfectly obvious. Anyone who pretends that it is not a referendum on masculinity for men to don floofy dresses is treating you as a full-on idiot. https://t.co/cioUNBh4bi
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) November 16, 2020
Downthread, Shapiro claims the whole point of the photoshoot is to "feminize masculinity." He mentions "the Left." He pretends this is a new and urgent thing, and not just that, but a threat. Of course he does. The guy trades in outrage. But this is manufactured bullshit. Pop musicians have long played around with gender norms, especially when it comes to how they dress. In that way, this is nothing new.
What is new is the fact that men—famous men, especially—are less concerned than ever with how they're supposed to dress and more concerned with dressing however the hell they like. Every once in a while, that means wearing an actual dress. More often, it means taking the most stereotypically masculine of outfits—the suit—and turning it on its head, playing with the pieces or the proportions or the print or some combination of the three.
"There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes. I’ve never thought too much about what it means—it just becomes this extended part of creating something.": Read our full December cover story starring @Harry_Styles here: https://t.co/yILujUQQae pic.twitter.com/qwpGKBSQey
— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) November 13, 2020
Styles is far less famous, in fashion circles, for his frocks than he is for his penchant for big, bold trousers that turn the volume on the hallmarks of mid-century style—the high-as-hell rise, the unrepentant pleats—all the way up to eleven, making them feel new and exciting. It's masculinity, reworked and reinvented, but by no means destroyed. And in that way, it's just like that dress that made Shapiro clutch his proverbial pearls. Harry Styles is doing what he wants, shocking the old guard, and getting a few hearts racing in the process. He's strong, subversive, and sexy. For whatever reason, Shapiro and company might not aspire to that kind of masculinity. But they should. As should we all.
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