Why 2021 Men's Fashion Could Launch a New Era
Women can wear pants but men can't wear dresses. Women have liberty to paint their nails (or not) while men must leave theirs bare. How does a system of so many cans for women end up limiting us in the end?
Harry Styles' November photo shoot with Vogue - in which he posed in various dresses - sparked a chorus of opinions on the role of masculinity in our society's prosperity. Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, led the negative response to Styles' photo shoot, tweeting that we need to "bring back manly men." Many on the left responded that standards of masculinity promote violence toward those who do not conform to gender stereotypes. Those in the middle have added that people can do whatever they want. So, do we really need masculine men? And is it possible that the demand to "bring back masculinity" is sexist in itself?
Opponents of men in dresses argue that clothing defines masculinity and, in turn, masculinity equates to strength.
So, first we need to ask ourselves, does clothing determine masculinity? Throughout history, clothing styles have fluctuated in both what is considered attractive and what expresses each gender. Masculinity and femininity have had different definitions at different points in history. Consider the Tudor era, during which kings wore tight-fitting corsets which gave the perception of a thinner waist, or 15th-century Persia, where soldiers wore high-heels. Some of the most conservative eras featured men in what we would today consider "women's clothing." In the early 20th century, pink was considered a boys' color and blue a girls' color. Clothing indicates style - not gender. If every man in the United States began wearing dresses tomorrow, it would not be a loss of masculine men, just a change in style.
Second, it is problematic to assume that masculinity equates to strength. A few viral videos on TikTok reinforce Owens' argument on dress-wearing men, claiming that "strong men make good times." Despite claims that "men and women are already equal," the fierce debate over masculinity reflects just how much our society still exemplifies masculinity over femininity. We not only exemplify masculinity, but attribute the success or failure of our civilization to it. Men need to wear "masculine" clothing because they are the ones who will win wars, foster a prosperous government, and protect women. Femininity is not as harsh a topic of debate (at least in the same way) because our society still does not value women's contribution to society. We are free to wear pants or dresses and paint our nails or leave them bare because men's role is maintaining societal prosperity while our role is to appease men. This is why debates over masculinity call into question the prosperity of our society while debates over femininity call into question the happiness of men.
Valuing masculinity over femininity is not only misogynistic, but in opposition to the true prosperity of our society. It is difficult to claim that male characteristics "make good times" when almost all wars and sex scandals can be traced back to men's overexaggerated desire to prove their masculinity. In comparison, women in Congress are more likely to vote against war and companies led by women produce 15% greater profits.
This is not to say that men can not be masculine, but that we need people of all gender expressions and ideas for our society to prosper - including feminine men, masculine women, and everyone in between.
Harry Styles wearing a dress is a victory for the gender nonconforming, women who are taught to despise themselves, and men who are pressured into fitting a mold which does not bring them full happiness. The gender nonconforming are simply gaining the right to expression which the gender conforming have enjoyed forever. This may even be the catalyst for a new era in fashion.