Twenty minutes before Harry Styles is set to appear onstage at Chicago's monster United Center, I find myself speaking to a group of concertgoers dressed as if they're en route to Stevie Nicks Night at Studio 54. The foursome made the pilgrimage earlier that day from Fort Wayne, Ind., a three-plus hour drive from the venue at which Styles is headlining two sold-out stadium shows as part of his rescheduled "Love on Tour." They're dripping in sequins and feathers, with a rainbowed assemblage of jewelry, boas and itty-bitty handbags that no doubt had been curated in the days prior.
One of the showgoers, Josie Tippmann, begins telling me about her look for the evening, which she plotted around a clompy pair of patchwork boots. "These boots just chose me," she says over the thrum of opener Jenny Lewis. Her makeup, meanwhile, is "Watermelon Sugar"-inspired, all glitter and tangy shades of bubblegum. "Anything for Harry."
Swirling all around us are folks just as well-coiffed: The mile-long merch lines come stacked with cowboy hats, slick suiting and no shortage of banana suits, a subtle wink at Styles' One Direction days. That this is just as distinct a sartorial phenomenon online as it is that night at the United Center should come as no surprise — it's 2021, after all, and fans gather across social media platforms with as much enthusiasm as they do here, reunited and vaccinated, by the tens of thousands.
Lately, that platform de rigueur is TikTok. Styles fans are posting what they call "outfit reveals" under the hashtag "#hslotoutfit," wherein showgoers unveil their concert-day ensembles against a mashup of Styles' own songs. According to data from the app, the trend has legs: From Aug. 15 to Sept. 30, #hslotoutfit had over 37 million views in the U.S. and 7,000 videos published; in this same window, video views on the hashtag grew from less than 100,000 per day to an average of 1.5 million per day.
Of course, Styles is far from the only entertainer to evoke fashion fervor through his fandom, let alone the only one to mobilize supporters on the internet. Consider K-pop marvel Blackpink, in which each of the four members inked blue-chip partnerships with four prestigious luxury houses, or Kanye West, whose own prowess landed him both a standalone clothing company and a separate diffusion line for Gap. With her LVMH-backed Fenty empire, Rihanna is her own case study altogether.
But for this tour, Styles' fans have adopted fashion as being entirely synonymous with the artist's own cult of personality, to an emotional degree. His fandom's clothes mean something to them, and with Styles, that's kind of the point: For what does he stand for as an artist if not a liberating crush of self-expression?
"People joke and say that one, [Styles] concerts aren't even concerts anymore, they're fashion shows, and two, the fans dress better than him at this point," says Nissy Simao, a 23-year-old Los Angeles-based social media producer whose own #hslotreveal video racked up almost half a million views and 120,000 likes. "Harry has definitely shown us as fans that we can be free to be whoever we want to be and love whoever we want to love. That shows in how we all collectively dress for his shows."
A long-time One Direction fan, Simao saw Styles in Denver in early September; she currently has tickets to see him in Seattle, too, and hopefully, for one of his three LA tour dates. For her first concert of the three, her look came together more last-minute than she would've liked. But come together it did.
"I'm a big thrifter, so I knew, ideally, I wanted to thrift my outfit," she says. Two days before the show, Simao had found a black vest that was almost identical to the embellished pink number Styles had worn for his first tour date in Las Vegas. He had gone shirtless underneath, however, which Simao herself couldn't replicate. "I scrambled to find something fun. The day of the concert, I thrifted teal sequined fabric and turned it into a tube top." The cherry on top was a light-up cowboy hat — "so he could see me in the crowd, of course."
Styles' wardrobe of late (as curated by stylist Harry Lambert) is bodied by a warm, vintage quality, with a glam-rock opulence peppered in at precise moments. As Ruth Smart, a 28-year-old playwright, songwriter and creator in Chicago, tells me, his fandom is taking notes.
"So many fans take his lead when they experiment with their own fashions," she says. "They learn to crochet so they can make their own replica of a cardigan he wore once for a rehearsal. They screen-print their own T-shirts that match ones he's worn. They get tailored suits and strands of pearls."
Like Simao, Smart has multiple tour dates lined up for this fall, including one show in Chicago and another in Milwaukee come November. For her first, she channeled Styles' "Fine Line" album cover with a taffeta blouse and high-waisted trousers, "plus a little dash of camp and 1970s disco flair." This sort of tribute creates a fierce bond between artist and audience, she says: "Fans feel closer to their favorites, or even a little bit powerful, when they dress like them."
Still, not all those camping out for "Love on Tour" are doing so in a glorified Styles cosplay. The majority are wearing what I can only (and slightly reductively) describe as being just damn good outfits. (This is excluding a subset of enthusiastic dads, who are known to escort their younger children to Styles' concerts in golf shirts.) While the full stylistic spread exists on TikTok, where #hslotoutfit lives and breathes, it's also on Instagram, thanks to an unidentified 19-year-old who runs the highly-followed account @hslotfashionhq.
"K," a Los Angeles-based college student who agreed to speak with me under the condition that they do so anonymously, only just launched the page last month, during the first show of "Love on Tour." At press time, the account had more than 12,000 followers and 1,870 posts, figures that are growing exponentially with each of Styles' tour dates. The account is fully user-generated, with showgoers simply DMing K photos of their outfit, which they then repost.
"I felt fans should have a way of showing off the outfits they put so much effort into," says K. "I know that many fans love to refer to his concerts as 'our Met Gala.'"
For K, who too has been a fan since the One Direction era, @hslotfashionhq has become the ultimate passion project. Styles' shows have become something of the ultimate safe space, in fashion as in life. "Fans just see these concerts as a place to feel confident, a place where they can be themselves," says K. "He's created this environment for fans to be themselves, just as we hope we've done for him."
On @hslotfashionhq, comment sections are flooded with celebratory remarks, one "YESSSS MISS GIRLLL" after another. Madelyn White, a 25-year-old physical therapist from Dallas, found particular comfort in this community at the height of pandemic-driven stay-at-home orders last spring. Today, her TikTok follower count is in the 40,000 range, with her #hslotoutfit reveal — a lacy, all-black homage to Styles' 2019 Met Gala look — clocking in at 62,000 views.
"TikTok was such a cool way to connect with people who have the same interests as me, and now that ['Love on Tour'] has started, it's even more fun to see everyone's outfits and concert videos," she says. "Everyone's so excited to dress up for his shows because we were all stuck inside for the better part of the last two years, dreaming about these concerts."
Smart, the playwright from Chicago, even argues that an artist's stadium tours aren't as much for the headliner as they are for the fans: You remember the shows, but you also remember befriending strangers as you waited in line, or screaming together when the artist finally played that one song you've been waiting for.
"Tours and concerts are about connecting with other fans," she says, "and that's what the #hslotoutfit hashtag is really about."