Column

Why Women Like Men Who Wear Dresses

Vogue didn’t put Styles in a dress in order to emasculate men; they did it because it’s hot

Harry Styles at the Met Gala on May 6, 2019. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/MG19/Getty Images

With over 1,000 Americans dying every day of Covid, the president of the United States refusing to concede an election he lost, and the West Coast continuing to burn, there is no shortage of pressing issues to be outraged over. That’s why I find it so strange that conservatives have focused their energy and ire on perhaps the most innocuous event of the year: a male celebrity in a dress.

Musician Harry Styles appears on Vogue’s December cover wearing a Gucci gown — the first man to ever be featured solo on the front of the iconic fashion publication. Styles told Vogue, “you can never be overdressed” and celebrated how gender norms are changing around clothing: “What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away… anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself.”

What many see as stylish fun, though, members of the right view as a feminist conspiracy to weaken men. In response to Styles’ cover, conservative author Candace Owens claimed that the “steady feminization” of American men was part of a plot to bring back Marxism, tweeting that we need to “bring back manly men.”

Sometimes we just want to see sexy people in beautiful clothes.

Podcaster Ben Shapiro also saw the dress as an attack on men, calling the cover a “referendum on masculinity” and an attempt by the left to “feminize men.” Pundit Erick Erickson even linked the image to incoming president Joe Biden: “Biden gets elected by promising a return to normal,” he tweeted. “Then the left goes all in on men in dresses.”

But Vogue didn’t put Styles in a gown on their cover because of some nefarious agenda to emasculate American men; they did it because it’s hot. Some of the country’s most iconic sex symbols are known for their gender-bending fashion — think David Bowie, Prince, or Grace Jones. Sometimes we just want to see sexy people in beautiful clothes.

And if conservatives are upset over Styles’ gorgeous gown, they’re really not going to like one of the newest trends on TikTok: young women dressing their boyfriends up in maid costumes. This new generation of women aren’t just open to boundary-breaking men, they’re actively seeking them out. They want men in skirts, men in makeup — they want men secure enough to have fun with their look rather than the anxious masculinity of gym selfies and frat bros.

And men are picking up on that desire: In fact, there are so many straight young men donning nail polish and skirts online to get female attention that there’s been a corresponding backlash of videos explaining that men in makeup can be just as misogynist as men in khakis.

In short, this is a lot more about eroticism than a plot to dismantle patriarchy. (If only!) Yes, of course there’s a link between feminism and men feeling more free to wear clothing that’s traditionally feminine. Just as it makes sense that women might find a man more attractive if he doesn’t view traditional femininity as somehow less than or beneath him.

Conservatives are looking for political conspiracies where there are none. They’re so obsessed with traditional gender roles — from magazine covers to their attack on trans people — that they’re unable to see when a dress is just a dress.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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