I Put Harry Styles in Charge of My Wardrobe, and This is What I Learned

“As fragile and inauthentic as our identities are, Bowie let us (and still lets us) believe that we can reinvent ourselves. In fact, we can reinvent ourselves because our identities are so fragile and inauthentic.” — Simon Critchley, ‘Bowie’

“Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.” —Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself III’

2015 was a difficult year for me. It must have been difficult for One Direction’s Harry Styles as well, what with Zayn leaving and the band declaring their indefinite hiatus, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he rose from the ashes of red carpet menswear at the American Music Awards in that goddamn Gucci bellbottomed suit.

Harry showed up in 2015. He showed up in recklessly sheer shirts, head-to-toe upholstery florals, chaotic new tattoos. In five years, he went from that floppy moppet in a puffy vest to ambiguous mermaid in couture. And because the world is a beautiful place, the Instagram account @harryworewhat can tell you exactly what Harry was wearing on any given day. I spent a lot of time there this fall; a lot of time on Tumblr, too, where the tags for Harry range from “rainbow glitter noodle” to “sensual kale farmer.”

Was this the best use of my time in 2015? I don’t care. It’s true that this — the style choices of a British boybander — should be utterly negligible, some bottom-feeder gossip, but the thing about Harry is that he was conjured up for us as an icon of heteronormative heartthrobbiness, Taylor Swift’s party joke, a pop culture footnote. Instead, the monster is wearing a buttercup lace Burberry shirt in the new “History” video and every day I have to stop myself from running around, wide-eyed and white-knuckled, clutching print-outs of Harry prancing in his silver YSL boots and waving them in the face of the patriarchy hissing, “THIS IS WHAT COULD BE IF WE JUST GAVE OUR IDOLS THE FREEDOM TO LIIIIIVVVVVE.”

It was Harry who told me to risk big, so in October I bleached my hair to an opalescent white ($260, maintenance ongoing), adopted him as my fall aesthetic, and simultaneously cut my clothing expenses in half.

The blissful wisp of aimlessly buttoned gossamer Harry wore at the Triple Ho Show in San Jose? Why, that’s a £345 Gucci shirt. It’s perfect, I would die, but instead I bought an oversized silk men’s blouse from the 80s at a second-hand store for $3. I’m sure Harry rent his own jeans in a fit of pop star pique, but I bought mine pre-ripped from ASOS for $51. Harry’s collection of boots makes me weep: my Zara glitter ankle boots were $45.99. Harry shambles around with London’s fashion elite, so I bought this Topman Viscose Button-Up from DJ Nick Grimshaw’s capsule collection, $75 (which Harry has actually worn numerous times, nbd, nbd). I ordered this London vs LA “Not Heartbroken” T, $49, from the U.K. and paid my weight in shipping, but the thing about this is that it is in fact a shirt worn by Louis Tomlinson on the 2015 “On The Road Again” tour so when paired with my glitter ankle boots, it means that my corporeal form is an actual representation of Larry Stylinson, the two boys finally joined in a way they never can be in real life.

yes i know uncanny

This may seem like a lot, but it’s all I’ve purchased in the last six months, my sense of style now honed to a careful, glittering nub; because the thing about adopting a style icon is that you have to ask yourself some fierce aesthetic questions and when you’re comparing the sale-rack Gap yoga leggings to the $1,195 Dolce & Gabbana “Floral Jacquard Pants” that jumpstarted your useless heart, you might as well just give up.

Now it’s winter, and the boys are on a break, but Logan, who got me into this whole mess, recently got drunk and bought a $20 furry vest from a garbage store in Manhattan, and I made a soft keening noise in my throat when I saw her photos. We don’t see each other in person anymore, or not as we used to, because I packed up my glitter boots and moved away from New York to a place where I am even weirder, even more alone, where most days there is no reason to put on real clothes except for the keychain that reminds me to ask myself what Harry would do.

So yes, I’ve saved money. But I found Harry in a dark time, when I was questioning everything — my wardrobe, my career, my choices — such that I needed someone to show me a better way. After David Bowie’s death, I watched Twitter come alive with waves of confessions, monuments to “that outsider who made different kids feel like dancing in that difference.” I thought about the license that our idols give us to be new selves; the better self, the best, and how often all we can do is applaud them in dark corners for doing the thing that frightens us. I read Laura Jane Faulds, writing about what Bowie meant to her:

I gripped my backstrap straps in my fists like if I didn’t I would fly away and bopped my head along to the piano, such heavy piano, and raised my eyebrows, emotively mouthed along to the lyrics and didn’t care how weird I seemed — it felt acceptable, that day, to be as weird as I wanted. Everyone was operating comfortably from the vantage point of their own personal weirdest on David Bowie Death Day. He gave us that permission, and it was really fucking nice of him…I bounded up and down the frozen foods aisle of a grocery store in a country I wasn’t born in, and wondered if maybe I should buy eggs while I was there, but I didn’t, because David Bowie died, and I didn’t care.

I thought about all of this while shaking out my weird fluff of baby chick hair, and it made me want to tip a $117.50 Bailey “Blackburn” hat to Harry. And maybe I’m being too generous in assuming this 22-year-old pop product — one who has literally been built on the currency of teenage girls — has any real measure of control over his self-presentation, but I look at him in his pitch-perfect Louis Vuitton shiny peach embroidered silk and just feel that he is important to us, important to someone, more important than the milquetoast, womanizing, Tiger Beat centerfold the media, the stylists, and Simon Cowell wanted us to see.

Today is Harry Styles’s birthday. That beautiful lanky baby gazelle is out there in the world risking something. You should, too.

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