The British pop star Harry Styles is slim and somewhat androgynous, has lots of tattoos, floppy hair (a US writer calls it “handsome-prince hair”), and an infectious grin. He gives the impression that butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. He is clearly prepared to have fun with his sexuality and masculinity, and has become known for expressing himself adventurously in ways that confound gender norms. A good example of this is the Gucci outfit he wore when he was hosting the 2019 Met Gala (theme: “Camp: Notes on Fashion”): including a gauzy, black, see-through blouse, Cuban heels, and a single, large pearl earring, like a Renaissance rake. He looked extremely pretty, or should that be handsome? Or both?
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What does Styles’s playful, androgynous persona tell us about gender now? More recently, he surprised people (and outraged some) by wearing a frilly gown, vaguely belle époque in feel, under a black jacket, on the cover of US Vogue in December 2020 – the cover line read: “Harry Styles Makes His Own Rules”. He has the honour of being the first solo male cover model in the magazine’s history. The fact that the cover photo was cropped at the waist reduces its impact; the Gucci gown in its entirety is voluminous, lacey, and very feminine, as we see in the fashion shots inside, which feature other iconoclastic looks: Styles modelling a skirt, a couple of kilts, a couple of crazy couture coat-gown hybrids, a crinoline worn over a suit, and some more ordinary trouser-and-jacket combinations. An endearing picture of him sitting beside his sister, with whom he used to play dress-up, Styles in his skin, and looking totally comfortable in it.