Harry Styles is a glamour-puss for the zeitgeist: a man who gleefully mines the sartorial glory days of rock ‘n roll with his eyes firmly fixed on the future. That’s the story his clothing told this past weekend on Saturday Night Live, anyway, where he was both host and musical guest, electrically likeable and as funny anyone who’s actually in the show’s cast. As Styles joked in his opening monologue, where he played monologuing chanteur at the piano: “Everyone thinks the cast does a lot of cocaine. They don’t. That’s why the show’s not good anymore.” The ’60s, the ’70s, and a droll treatment of the doldrums of the 2010s, all in one moment. Rare is the person who “everyone”—whatever that means now—might “fall in love with,” but Styles still manages to do that nearly obsolete thing the best celebrities do: charm us, and look great doing it. That’s the Styles Style.
On Saturday, there was also Styles’s...style: in short, he wore the hell out of a handful of outfits, and in the process laid out nothing less than where fashion is heading. As the apocalypse winds down a banner decade, everyone is looking back on changes and paradigm shifts, sharing photos of ourselves ten years ago with bad hair and this year with less bad hair. But it’s also worth wondering—and possibly less depressing to do so—what the next decade in fashion will look like. Styles represents precisely that, as his SNL night of a thousand big fits demonstrated: creative, a mix of brands big and small, and elegant. It’s a new era in which getting dressed—and really living in the clothes—is more vital a part of self-expression than it’s ever been before.
Styles mixes big dog designers with the up-and-comers, foretelling an interest not in mixing not high and low, but huge and little. He’s long been a Gucci guy, clutching farm animals in their tailoring campaigns since spring 2018, and co-chairing this year’s Met Gala with creative director Alessandro Michele. (Styles wore a tulle-bodice jumpsuit and a single dangly earring.) But if that kind of big brand contract used to mean you wore one designer and nothing else, Styles plays a little bit faster and looser, wearing a Marni shirt, or that Lanvin sheep-print sweater vest, with his Gucci trousers—two brands with new, young designers still establishing their vision, paired with a billion-dollar brand. This doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary, but it is a slight kind of liberty (or even rebellion) that makes him look less like a guy who’s been plugged into the fashion world and more like someone who just loves clothes. Maybe it’s that people are getting cynical about the sameness that those big brand contracts involve, or maybe it’s just that designers are getting more comfortable with—or realistic about—their brands being seen as a part of a wardrobe.
Even more inspiring is his interest in even younger or more obscure designers: he’s been particularly fanatical about the work of Central Saint Martins student Harris Reed, and also wore on Saturday night a handful of pieces by Bode. If the last decade was about pairing fast fashion knockoffs with the real deal—a story that did not end well—now, the idea is to tuck your Christopher Kane “Sex” T-shirt into your Gucci trousers, and throw a Bode workshirt over it.
Styles emerged as a fashion icon for his individuality—that sense that, well, he could pull that off. But now his style has evolved into something trendsetting rather than quirky. His dangly earring at the Met Gala started a craze, but so too did his wider embrace of sexiness in fashion, a gender-fluid vision based on the drama and sensuality of womenswear rather than men’s suiting. As his black Gucci sequin jumpsuit with a plunging neckline reminded us, he’s plundered from golden age Mick Jagger, sometimes down to the way he puts his hand on the back of his hip, but he manages to create a lightness and joy where Jagger stood for a glinty bitchiness. It feels modern, directional, rather than nostalgic.
All of which makes for a fun bit of runway cat-and-mouse, but it also underscores that Styles, along with Timothée Chalamet, is one of the only men outside the fashion industry who is taking risks in fashion, and using it for self-expression and exploration. As Michele told GQ in our November New Masculinity issue, Harry “is so relaxed in his body, and completely open to listen to himself…. He's the only one on the market, I think, that is really in contact with his feminine part.” If the rest of Hollywood and the music industry has yet to catch up, the increasing dominance of the Styles Style suggests they likely will soon.
Even his louche opening monologue suit, a rare straight-from-the-Gucci-runway look, tells a story that anyone can pluck from: a new age of elegance and eccentricity. That attitude—an absolute joy in getting dressed, not seen since the society doyennes who assembled museum-worthy wardrobes of couture—is both contagious and prophetic, pointing to an age where fashion fanaticism departs from an exasperating call-out puritanism and moves towards something more jubilant.
Originally Appeared on GQ