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Harry Styles performing at the 2021 Grammy Awards
Harry Styles performing at the 2021 Grammy Awards
Photo by Francis Specker / CBS

As It Was: Harry Styles and Redefining Gender

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pace chapter.

I love Harry Styles as much as the next person, but the current discussions surrounding him and his “redefining of gender” is a conversation I just can’t stomach. Some people may have my head for this opinion, but this is a hill I will die on; Harry Styles is not redefining gender in any way that other artists haven’t already done. I would just like to say that this is purely my opinion. I do not mean any shade or hate or slander towards Harry Styles. As I previously stated, I do adore him (pun 100% intended) but, I would just like to take some power away from false media headlines and ideals in a respectful manner. 

At the time of writing this article, Mick Jagger has recently come out to share my sentiments, less eloquently but nonetheless, Jagger said that he was doing more than Styles is and doing it before he was even born. While this is a very grandiose way of getting his point across (this is Jagger we’re talking about after all) I would like to remind you all that I only believe the base message of what he was saying; Harry Styles is not doing anything new. 

Styles is doing something that is becoming more widely accepted, I happily admit that. However, he is not the first nor is he the most flamboyant with it. Styles’ incorporation of skirts, dresses, glitter, and makeup is commendable and is definitely contributing to the destigmatization of gender roles, especially concerning men, but I would like to take a look back on a few past male-presenting artists who were doing things like this long before Styles. This article will only be looking at the artists and their presentations, I will not be comparing artists nor will I be sharing my opinions on these artists.

The first artist that comes to mind concerning flamboyancy and ignoring gender stereotypes is David Bowie. I’m sure that most reading this will know Bowie and his work but for those who don’t, Bowie was an English rockstar and actor. He began making music in 1963 and was active until his passing in 2016 at the age of 69. Bowie was a very eccentric artist. His use of costuming and makeup is infamous and instantly recognizable. He had many notable characters that he used for albums and performances including his most popular persona, Ziggy Stardust. 

Bowie had been utilizing makeup and feminine dress from the beginning of his career. Going back to the character of Ziggy Stardust, which was potentially his most feminine era. The character is often confused with Aladdin Sane (the lightning bolt makeup adorned Bowie) but I digress. Ziggy Stardust wore feminine cut jumpsuits and shirts and wore makeup quite often, see here, photoshoot material of the character. 

Another popular artist that leaned heavily into flamboyancy, in particular, is none other than Elton John. Once again, I would assume most of you know about Sir Elton John (his middle name is Hercules and that’s not important, but I just think that’s so cool!!) but for those of you who don’t, go watch Rocketman. Elton John’s aesthetic was very flamboyant. He was usually decked out in feathers and rhinestones. Not on par with Styles’ aesthetic wholly, but with the same idea. 

While both of these artists seemed to have these tendencies leaning more toward stage personas, I would like to bring up one more artist who I think is a closer representation of Harry Styles, Boy George. Now this one is one that I know a lot of people won’t know. Boy George was the lead singer of Culture Club. You know the song “Karma Chameleon?” Yeah, that’s them. If not, no worries I get it, I just grew up with parents stuck in the ’70s and ’80s. Boy George, on and off stage, was equally flamboyant. I wouldn’t say flamboyant in the sense of Elton John with feathers and rhinestones and that lot, but a bit more feminized than those around him. The best part is, that he still is! Boy George lives his life the way Styles does, unapologetically true to himself and his own beliefs. 

This article is not about who did it first. Actually, it kind of is but not in a way meant to demean Harry Styles and his accomplishments and steps forward. This article is to show readers (hi, yes, you) that once again, the media has pushed a vague and untrue narrative. I am not trying to show you that Harry Styles is not a trendsetter, that he’s not making moves in the right direction for society. He is, truly! But I just want to be able to provide a space where these other artists can be acknowledged for their own accomplishments and steps forward. 

Christina Guy is Co-Campus Correspondent for Her Campus at Pace! She oversees the running of the chapter, all of its inner workings, hosts meetings, and more. She also consistently writes articles for Her Campus at Pace and has for 3 years now. Outside of Her Campus, Christina works in childcare as a summer camp counselor and a seasonal lead teacher. She is a History major and has a minor in Sociology/Anthropology. She is a First Year Experience peer leader and an education TA. Christina has submitted personal pieces to several small literary magazines since high school and continues to do so. Christina hopes to become a museum curator one day or work within museum education. On her own, Christina loves to write fiction, listen to music, and read. She is also a huge Star Wars fan and often writes articles pertaining to the subject. Christina is also a co-host of her own on-campus radio show called Sunday Scaries. Christina is also an expert in all things history and 5 Seconds of Summer. Two very different subject areas, but she is proficient in each nonetheless! She is also very passionate about 70s aesthetic and fashion and hopes to be able to completely embody the full 70s look one day.