Brands are finally realizing that Gen Z is not here for archaic gender roles
Harry Styles has done it again.
Gracing the cover of Dazed magazine, Harry has gone viral for his gender-fluid outfits and his full embrace of eccentric fashion choices. This comes as he launches Pleasing, his beauty brand that celebrates individuality and beauty through nail polish and skincare.
This is not the first time Harry has tested the boundaries of gender norms in clothing. Since his departure from One Direction in August 2015, Harry's solo career has been one defined by curiosity and color. No longer constrained by his 1D image, the "Watermelon Sugar" singer is flaunting the freedom to explore his own tastes and identity beyond any boundary he can break.
Naturally, this has opened him up to much media speculation — especially about his sexuality — all of which he's managed to expertly brush off with the ease of someone who is used to the scrutiny of fame. His sartorial boldness has earned him many fashion fans — including Anna Wintour — who cast him as co-chair of the 2019 Met Gala and made him the first man to appear solo on the cover of Vogue.
Boundary Pushing Has Been A Long Time Coming
Harry's constant boundary pushing follows in a long line of performers who exploit their aesthetics to push the boundaries of what's considered socially acceptable. Often, these have been queer and/or BIPOC artists who weren't accepted by the mainstream anyway and therefore were able — or forced — to shatter its expectations.
Think: Prince, whose widespread appeal doesn't stem from cheap theatrics or musical cliches. Prince was actively political, actively experimental, and fearlessly unapologetic. In a similar vein, Bowie and Freddy Mercury also used media such as music videos and record covers to play with gender norms — while wearing bold makeup on stage as part of their personas.
Harry isn't the only one following in the path of these status-challenging footsteps. Contemporary artists like Jaden Smith, Yungblud, and Jesse Rutherford are among other artists playing with contemporary perceptions of maleness.
In hip hop, Lil Nas X, Yung Thug, and Lil Uzi Vert are pioneering a new type of rapper, one inspired by rock music and alternative aesthetics, therefore advancing notions of Black maleness beyond mainstream constraints.
Now, it's common to see male stars sporting colorful nails and more traditionally "feminine"tailoring. A lot of these emergent aesthetics mirror looks that Mr Styles has sported — Shawn Mendes's turn to jewelry and short shorts, Tom Holland's GQ cover flared pants. And we love to see it.
The Mainstream Adoption
This increased visibility of gender non-comforming options for self-expression has made its way down from the upper echelons of artists and celebrities to the masses. In small ways, masculine dressing is shifting to something more playful.
For example, boys in crop tops and nail polish are pretty much ubiquitous on college campuses and TikTok. Male jewelry is also popular — with beaded and pearl necklaces appearing as common accessories on young demographics.
Lots of this is influenced by social media as much as it is by celebrities. TikTok beauty standards encourage young boys to wear rings, have longer hair, pierced ears, and painted nails. It also encourages a less rigid attitude that shuns archaic definitions of gender and revels in the playfulness of stepping outside of social norms.
This is no surprise considering Gen Z — who are spearheading this normalization, are more queer-identifying and more accepting of LGBTQ communities — bringing them from the fringe into the mainstream.
Big Brands are Taking Notice
Companies and brands have caught on that the same bland, binary, hetro-normative images and products do not work for this new generation.
On the cutting edge, companies like Meloway Makeup are responding to customer demands for more diversity.
Meloway Makeup, a thrilling beauty brand that believes that makeup can be versatile tools of self expression. Instead of being fussy or overly complex like some brands, Meloway wants to enhance your natural beauty in simple ways. Although their line is simple it packs a punch.
Here are our favorite products for any gender:
- brow creation gel ($20): No matter who you are, your brows frame your face. They're the unassuming, make-it-or-break-it feature which have more impact on your looks than you think. While horrifying trends like overplucking or over-filling are behind us, we can embrace a more natural shape — just enhanced!
- your way eyeliner + remover ($22): Everyone loves a two-in-one! This revolutionary eyeliner pen lets you easily apply the perfect cat-eye, but also remove it if it smudges mid-application. Forget those overly-complex TikTok hacks for the perfect wing — this is all you need.
- ready set primer ($22): Meloway is committed to innovating makeup just as much as it's interested in pushing boundaries. This primer does both: providing thicker lashes even before you apply mascara. Say goodbye to flimsy falsies or too-thick coats of mascara with this silky solution.
We're excited to see where the democratization of beauty takes us. Hopefully, it's in the direction of more brands like Meloway and more stars like Harry.