We’re sitting around playing YouTube DJs for one another. I play my favorite Jhene Aiko track, she plays some Biebs in Carpool Karaoke (“swag, swag, swag, swag, whew! whew!”). After about the fourth round of Usher tracks, Cindy puts on a One Direction song that I have never heard.
Around second 0:45, my stomach drops. I see Harry Styles walking down a hallway, and it hits me. Once again, my current style is EXACTLY like his. The worst part is that this is not the first time I look like a member of a goddamn boyband or pop star. UGH!
Harry Styles’s fashion has always been the eccentric pretty-boy rocker look of 1 D, so it’s no surprise that my fashion and aesthetic overlap. I love David Bowie, Mick & Keith and Patti Smith. I live for menswear and distressed leather jackets. What is different now, though, is that Harry’s current look is pretty much everything I aspire to look like, and that annoys. the. fuck. out. of. me.
What is it about queer women’s style emulating that of teenage boy pop stars? It can’t be all about androgyny, can it? This also seems like a new-ish phenomenon. When I was a young queer gal growing up in the mid/late-1990s, not many young women wanted to emulate the style of Ricky Martin, N’Sync members, or even worse, 98 Degrees (sorry JJ, but that hat is terrible).
Perhaps it is the hideous fashion associated with the 1990s boybands that dissuaded many young women from wanting to take a page from their kangol hats, color block sweaters, leather bootcut pants page. I mean, one of the greatest teenage heart throbs of all times, James Dean, still influences countless masculine-aesthetics in the queer, bi, pan, and lesbian communities. Even Justin Bieber channels Sir hotty-boom-body (bringing back that classic 90s slang).
We have nearly a decade of commentary about Justin Bieber and lesbians. There are a bevy of jokes/quizzes/blog posts/standup routines out there that make fun of lesbians who look like teenage boy pop stars and vice versa. Remember Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber? And let’s not forget Kate McKinnon’s spin on LezBiebs with her hilarious Bieber impersonation of JB’s Calvin Klein ads for SNL.
Sure, the Biebs is a very pretty man. (Cindy says I am attracted to him because I look like him, but I don’t see the resemblance). I can also see how folks might conflate effeminate facial features and tight jeans with non-heteronormative lady fashion. But I think there’s something more there- perhaps even a little misogyny and homophobia.
Alongside the rise of the 1990s boy band era came with it a cultural backlash steeped in homophobia and heteronormativity. Oftentimes, the question of members’ masculinity and sexuality is the subject of Reddit comments (TW: homophobia)/jokes/sideye in mass media. God forbid straight (and queer) men sing and dance whilst titillating droves of young people. I mean, even Harry Styles in this clip of Carpool Karaoke mocks the singing and dancing era of boy bands, saying “it’s weird.”
So here I am, flustered that my style (like many of my queer women sisterhood) is once more being relegated to a male pop star’s look, but also calling into question my own assumptions about boy bands. Part of my discomfort with dressing like and/or looking like a member of a boy band is not about wanting to conform to a social construction of gender expectations. Rather, it is the infantilization that often happens to women who look “young” or younger than they are. To look like a 20-year-old young man, as a 33-year-old woman, seems to feed into that misogynistic practice, but perhaps there’s something more revolutionary going on.
Dressing/looking like a boy band member as a grown woman transgresses gender presentation expectations. Similarly, Harry’s soft facial features combined with his 1970s Bowie, Jagger, and Smith-esque tight jeans, flowing blouses, blazers and long hair also presses us to rethink traditional forms of masculinity.
Part of the connections between androgynous women’s fashion and boy band style is undoubtedly the blurring of gender binaries and presentation through fashion and hair. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post on gender presentation, heteronormativity stresses the importance for women to dress like “women,” or rather, the social construction of how women should dress. Androgyny and the blurring the gender binaries, be it a male pop star looking more effeminate or a grown woman looking more like a boy band member, is oftentimes criticized in our culture as being “gay,” “queer,” or not enough masculine or feminine. This is yet another example of how society uses heteronormative gender expectations and homophobia to perpetuate sexism. I mean, the canonical feminist theorist, Suzanne Pharr, hit the nail on the head when she talked about the various ways homophobia is used to deter women from identifying and engaging in feminist politics in her 1997 piece “Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexim.”
Here is where I can get on board with looking like Harry. Looking like Harry Styles is yet another way to resist homophobia and heteronormativity while looking fly as F*&#. I mean, Harry Styles had enough swag to snag T-Swift AND get a song written about him, which was also used to OPEN THE 2016 GRAMMY’S. (Plus there’s the speculation that he also wrote a song about Tay Tay, so I mean, dude has some swag.)
He is also freakin adorable with that huge smile. The band’s former stylist, Caroline Watson, (who was allegedly stolen by Zayn when he left the band), is a very talented woman, and I should be happy to take my cues from a pro.
So from now on, I am going to embrace my inner-Harry. He and I have nothing in common other than being naturally wavy-haired brunettes who like pseudo-androgynous clothes and have wide mouths. (Personality wise, I’m much more of a Louis anyway according to this highly scientific quiz).
In closing, I will leave you with one of the songs that Harry and his bandmates are credited at writing. The song is about morning wood. Again, we have nothing in common.