On the Contrary of “Bring Back Manly Men”

Image credit: Tyler Mitchell//Vogue


O P I N I O N – F A S H I O N


Fiana Islam


“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.” 

– Harry Styles


The famous, former boyband One Direction singer, Harry Styles, made history by being the first-ever man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue Magazine 2020 issue. With the publishing of the cover, the 26-year-old singer and music composer received considerable appreciation from fans and other artists though not without some unhealthy backlashes from the gender conformists. 

Vogue has issued this cover to promote the idea of making your own rules, at least that is what arose from the interview with Styles. 

On the front cover of Vogue, Harry Styles is seen to wear a multi-layered periwinkle blue gown, paired with a black tuxedo jacket, designed by Gucci. In the other cover images from the shoot, he wore clothes from the designer Harris Reed, especially known for his gender fluidity and cross-dresser designs of Victorian influences.

These images immediately created an open controversy among the gender conformist critics, and at the same time, astounded the fashion society worldwide. 

Who are gender conformists?  

Gender conformists are individuals with typical viewpoints about gender identities. They believe a person’s sexual identity should be the one that was assigned at birth — that a person with male sexual organs should have traditional male characteristics like strength and stoicism, and a person with female sexual organs should have the opposite characteristics gentleness and sentimentality. Gender conformists avoid unconventional approaches regarding the change in identities or sex.

However, Styles’ wearing a gown has nothing to do with converting his assigned sex or masculinity — rather it speaks more of embracing humanistic life choices, and growing personality. Even then, it seems some traditionalists just cannot sit in peace without making any fuss.

Ongoing backlashes 

The American conservative author and activist Candace Owens commented on Style’s sense of dressing, and pointed it to the society for promoting outright attack on manly men. She then tweeted a post by quotingBring Back Manly Men. In her statement, she expressed her concerns in this regard and announced that the society needs masculine men who are tough and can protect their surrounding when needed. According to her, men are not supposed to dress like women, and if someone does, they are not ‘manly’ enough. Her statement broke the internet overnight. 

Throughout history, clothing and fashion styles have been revolving around women more than men. Human appearance is generally categorised by societal norms and regulations to represent the two genders differently. In Christianity too, it simply justifies the consequences as the result of breaking said boundary:

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” (Deuteronomy 22:5) 

A closer look

There has always been a fine line between masculine and feminine accessories. However, gender-neutral clothing has quickly become a global trend in recent times. Gender-neutral clothing or androgynous fashion represents something in between. In general, most of us do not get the proper idea or purpose behind this trend and misinterpret it. If I were asked to name communities with mainstream beliefs regarding fashion or clothing, I would name India and Bangladesh, where traditions are followed religiously. As a Muslim country, Bangladeshi fashion society is way far to start the androgynous fashion trend than India. But even then, the journey was not so easy for Indian fashion culture too.

For men, to act “manly enough” became a compulsory attitude to cope with society. Men who possess discrete outlooks are often criticised for the conventional sexist notion about adapting different clothing styles or views. For example, the famous Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee has been including gender-neutral fashion trends for men in his collections for many years. People sometimes do not accept this wholeheartedly, but with time, Sabyasachi Official is revealing their “womenswear” collection for men to the national and international platforms.  

Now the renowned one like Sabyasachi might receive less controversy because of, well, the fame and reputation, but for other local fashion designers/houses, it is way too hard to make the move.

Indian actor Ranveer Singh has constantly been criticised for his unique fashion views of adapting womenswear in fashion shows, award nights, or interviews. He has also been trolled multiple times for his exceptional appearance and has become the subject of public mockery for “using clothes from his wife’s (Indian actress Deepika Padukone) wardrobe” — a public assumption that makes no sense.

There is a quote from the famous international fashion designer Coco Chanel that says, In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different. But throughout history, anything different from the societal structure is considered “unsocial”; and for a man/boy — “unmasculine”. 

While doing my undergraduate programme in English Literature, I often came across people with different point of views in my university, as well as in my own department. We were always taught by our faculties that to be a student of Literature, one needs to be fully liberal. However, most of us do not act according to what we have been taught from the beginning. My fellow classmates used to gossip about random guys for wearing jumpsuits, because they thought jumpsuits are only for girls, and do not match with our Bangladeshi culture — if a man wears it. Sometimes they laughed and passed comments, like “Is he gay?” or “Is he actually a boy?” — just because a guy wore something pink or red or anything bright.    

However, not just in Bangladesh or India, but all over the world in general, men are not allowed to fit in certain forms of fashion. Wearing pink or any vibrant colour is not acceptable for men/boys, as it is considered “girly”. Those who wear such colour are labelled “effeminate” (as if it were a slang).

I often wonder, are these just the mainstream perspective of the society, or is it actually our voiceless liberal mentality that is bringing on the whole scenario? If a man unhesitatingly wears a unique outfit at his own choice, is it justified to judge him or point finger at him? Unfortunately, this is exactly what toxic masculinity expects from men — to be tough in every way, including outfits. Anything that looks other than “tough” is considered “feminine”. Being a man does not mean one is bound to have a beardy face with a muscular physique, and wear tuxedoes and formal shoes. A man can carry something completely contrasted to usual and can still be a man.  

“Exceptions can be the example” 

People create fashion, not the other way around. Individual priority should be the first step of embracing any style. If a man willfully wants to wear anything or do anything to feel beautiful, he shouldn’t be barred from doing so. Freedom of choice is an individual’s one of the fundamental human rights. 

If we dig deeper to find the root of the stereotypes, we won’t actually find anything meaningful. These are just like our old grandma’s tales we used to hear in our childhood. We heard them without questioning, and had our share of entertainment. 

Men will be men, no matter what they wear or what they adapt to represent themselves in society. Gender-neutral clothes do not define one’s masculinity or femininity. It is only an exceptional, independent choice to broaden one’s sense of fashion; as the famous fashion designer Alexander McQueen once said,

Fashion should be a form of escapism, not a form of imprisonment.

 

References:

  1.  Playtime With Harry Styles: “You Can Never Be Overdressed” 
  2. Harry Styles Fans Are Not Here for Ridiculous Criticism Over His Gown 
  3. The Rise of Men’s Feminine fashion trend in 2019/20 

 


Fiana thinks of herself as a human-ish, who wants to count her each step on Earth, just like she counts the pages of her books.

 

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