A Look Into the Hollywood Harness Phenomenon

A Look Into the Hollywood Harness Phenomenon

Where did the menswear accessory causing red carpet controversy really come from?

Where did the menswear accessory causing red carpet controversy really come from?

Text: Reshmi Kaur Oberoi

The late 19th C fanny pack’s less-endowed sibling- the harness- is the latest accessory to no longer become a gender-specific relic. It has been crafted in such a way so as to bypass its controversial history: From country western stereotypes and combat gear sported by armed civil officers, to being of stripped of its weapon-holster capabilities, to being utilized as a fashionable accessory that emphasizes the female silhouette, to becoming a faux-shirt for openly gay men. The suspender-like garment has been revived in high fashion, and most notably by red carpet heavyweights. The result? A slew of celebrities, almost all men, have sported the controversial garment without batting an eye. Yet this lightweight accessory has stirred up some weighty matters.

Timothée Chalamet donned a Louis Vuitton black harness at the year’s first red carpet. Wearing the quintessential dressy uniform- all black. His pastor-collar long-sleeved button down paired with black trousers was accented by a black sequined harness from Virgil Abloh’s S/S ‘19 collection. The 23-year-old actor was quick to address the newest inanimate addition to Twitter on the Ellen Show, possibly crying wolf when he said, “I thought it was a bib! They told me it was a bib!” He did not want to be associated with sex culture.

GQ combatted the popular idea that the garment was a kind of sex toy, reporting that the harness was “nothing like the BDSM gear you would think of when someone says, well, a harness. This is the bejeweled kind we are talking about. And the high-fashion item is officially called an embroidered bib.”

Ineffectual as a bib, considering the purpose is to shield one’s clothing underneath, makes it unlikely as such. That said, what GQ reported is not synonymous to Chalamet’s horror at being linked to the controversial clothing made popular by queer culture in 1960s San Francisco. In an op-Ed, a gay writer argues that it took a straight man of celebrity status to normalize the “on the fringes” garment. In contrast, Esquire’s senior culture editor tweeted that the rhinestone-studded harness was the equivalent to a school-goer’s Jan-sport backpack.

Michael B. Jordan donned another Abloh harness to the SAG Awards. Multicolored in a galactic motif, the Abloh creation didn’t cause quite the same stir as its predecessor. Still, it was enough to catapult the harness as a guarantee for landing on best-dressed lists. Predating both straight celebrities was the openly gay Olympian, Adam Rippon who sported a harness in the classic BDSM black leather to the Academy Awards in March 4, 2018. The Moschino chest harness’s impact was evident: Cher mentioned it as an example of Rippon's self-confidence in the excerpt published for TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential. In the days that followed, Rippon tweeted, “I think fashion is all about self expression and I chose to wear what I wore on the red carpet because I felt cool AF. Everyone should take risks, be bold. It’s LOTS of fun.” Jordan quipped that he wasn’t concerned with any deeper existentialist matters, but just thought, “why not? It was just like f-ck it, I’m going to do it.”

Alexander McQueen crafted lambskin harnesses for women wear Resort 19. The accessories did not conjure homosexuality and instead were likened to being a strong woman: a warrior-princess. The cut-out in, what would otherwise be considered a bib or a vest, was meant to frame a woman’s curves much like a bustier accentuates the bosom like a bra cup would. McQueen’s harness was a hard-hitting western take on its softer effeminate counterpart, the corset. Creative Director, Sarah Burton’s impetus for the design was rooted in British Paganism. The harness was a form of strict tailoring emphasizing strength as opposed to softness- a woman who is “rooted to the ground, rooted to the earth,” Burton explained.

Harnesses are paralleled to sex in more than one way. For example, for many religions, sexual acts are not for purposes of pleasure, but are instead a means to an end: to reproduce, to continue the human race or a belief system. It’s a numbers game. Likewise, harnesses for civic-armed officers, professional photographers, rock climbers to prevent falls, to hold infants, all serve a specific purpose. Though Abloh’s design was inspired by Michael Jackson’s glittery golden harness at halftime during the Superbowl, one could argue that wearing the garment was to serve the performance and the audience. And while one could argue that bondage is a purpose, or simply a means of expressing one’s self, the underlying reasons for wearing anything rests on how one wants to present his/herself. And that is wear the waters get murky: what is the place of pop cultural icons in a larger societal context? How far is too far? The red carpet harness has struck a chord, just as Michael Jackson intended, but this time, it is not without a power struggle.

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