Dressed in a custom–made, lace–trimmed Gucci ball gown, Harry Styles made history as the first solo male cover star of American Vogue. However, the dress was just the tip of the iceberg, as Styles is now entering the beauty industry with the launch of his skincare and nail polish line, Pleasing, which further cements his place as one of the most public faces of gender neutral fashion.
On Nov. 15, Styles officially launched his gender–neutral beauty brand: Pleasing. The products offered in the launch include nail polish, eye serum, and lip oil, and they range in price from $20 to $65.
Styles isn't the first male celebrity to launch his own nail polish line. Machine Gun Kelly announced his plans to launch his own nail polish line, UN/DN, in April 2021. TikToker Lil Huddy recently released a line of press–on nails in a collaboration with Glamnetic.
Styles isn't the first man to wear a dress either—Prince, Kurt Cobain, David Bowie, and Billy Porter are all male artists who have donned dresses as forms of self–expression. Not being the first does not mean Styles’ venture into the beauty industry is any less important; it’s clear that he represents the growing acceptance of gender–neutral clothing and self expression.
In a press release, the brand stated that Pleasing’s mission is "to bring joyful experiences and products that excite the senses and blur the boundaries," with the aim of "dispel[ling] the myth of a binary existence.” This feels authentic to Styles' personal brand, and makes the hype feel warranted in many ways—Styles has and continues to wear nail polish, dresses, and makeup at shows and press events.
However, despite the move being popular among Styles' fans, there are vocal critics of the brand who raise questions as to whether or not Styles deserves to capitalize on queer identity when he's never confirmed how he identifies. Moreover, as a man who has only ever publicly dated women, some accuse him of queerbaiting, and thus, exploiting the LGBTQ community.
If Styles is indeed straight, cisgender, and willingly misleading his audience, the critiques are warranted. With the launch of Pleasing, Styles is monetizing off of a movement that he may not actually identify with.
After gracing the cover of Vogue in a dress, Styles was lauded as a brave risktaker. However, openly queer artists like Billy Porter, who has worn dresses to multiple award ceremonies including the Oscars, has not received the same clout for his actions as Styles.
While Styles' accomplishments in helping to shift public opinion are laudable, it is important to note that his path to 'nonbinary icon' status has been relatively easy in comparison to those who came before him.
As Billy Porter told The Los Angeles Times, “This is politics for me, this is my life. I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars and not be gunned now. All [Styles] has to do is be white and straight.” Styles has not publicly commented on his sexuality.
Porter has since recanted his statements during his appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, “Harry Styles, I apologize to you for having your name in my mouth, It’s not about you. The conversation is not about you. The conversation is actually deeper than that. It is about the systems of oppression and erasure of people of color who contribute to the culture.”
While Styles should not be credited with spearheading gender neutral fashion in the mainstream, forcing someone to publicly define their sexuality or gender identity is extremely questionable. We may never know how Styles truly identifies, leaving the public to assume that he's both cisgender and straight based off of his highly–publicized private life (an assumption that is influenced heavily by heteronormativity).
Hopefully with the launch of Pleasing, Styles will take a bigger and more vocal stand in support of LGBTQ rights so fans and critics alike can understand where he's coming from and where his values lie.