Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran performing at the Global Citizen Festival


Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and the sexist double standard of getting dressed

At a recent music festival, the two singers’ outfits highlighted the sartorial disparity between men and women. Laura Craik takes a closer look 

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By Laura Craik on

It’s 7.43pm, and despite your strictest attempts, including “no prosecco until you get there – not even a tiny livener while you tong your hair”, you appear to have turned into that most heinous of cliches, aka Woman Who Takes Too Long To Get Ready For A Christmas Party. Downstairs, your boyfriend is pacing up and down the hall. You can’t see him, but you can feel him, along with his death stares as you shuck off the black ankle boots and put on the red ones, only to take them off and put on the silver sandals, before glancing outside and seeing the rain, which is pissing down, so it’ll have to be the red ankle boots after all. Do they even work with the fuchsia dress? Red and pink should never be seen… OK, so that’s actually red and green, but probably red and pink, too... oh, God, you’ve just smudged your lipstick. And you may as well have had the freaking prosecco – a whole bottle of it – given that your hair looks like it’s been tonged by someone who’s been drinking solidly since 10am.

OK. You’re going downstairs. You may be late, but your dress is bae, your bag is fab and your hair, in a dim light, is Holly Willoughby. You are a creature unlike any other. You are a goddess. You are… going to the party with Kevin The Teenager, apparently. Or to be more accurate, and taking into account that he recently celebrated his 42nd birthday, Kevin The Middle-Ager, with a soupçon of Randy from Love thrown in. One wonders how he would describe this look himself. Eminem: The Ambien Years? I mean, a hoodie? Really?  

The real issue is whether Beyoncé really *is* free to dress down, or whether she’s a victim of sexism perpetrated by a misogynistic record industry

We’ve all been there: trussed up like a Christmas turkey, while our partner does his best impersonation of Shia LaBeouf. Even Beyoncé isn’t immune: at Monday’s Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg, she took to the stage with Ed Sheeran – she in a drop-dead gorgeous voluminous pink meringue of a dress, with cascades of tulle ruffles, by Ashi Studio, he in… well, jeans and a T-shirt. Or rather, two T-shirts: one long-sleeved and white à la Coldplay’s Chris Martin (#why), the other short-sleeved and black.

“So what?” you might say. “That’s just Ed’s look. He is as entitled to look like an Oxford Street busker as Beyoncé is to look like a qween.” And I agree. But this is 2018: gender politics can be read into even the most innocently shucked-on of outfits. The writer and activist Shon Faye summed up the situation thus: “Ed Sheeran is a 27-year-old man, the fact we’ve enabled him to feel it’s OK to dress like this at all, let alone next to Beyoncé, really boils my piss.” A contentious point, perhaps, but the fact that the tweet has so far garnered 70,000 likes shows Faye is far from alone in her opinion.

Obviously, Beyoncé is as free as Ed Sheeran to rock up on stage wearing jeans and a T-shirt, so is it right to call sexism on the sartorial disparity between the two? Beyoncé is almost as loved for her outré fashion choices as she is for her voice; her fans expect her to dress up as Flappy Fuchsia Big Bird, just as Ed’s expect him to dress like Student Grant. The real issue is whether Beyoncé really *is* free to dress down, or whether she’s a victim of sexism perpetrated by a misogynistic record industry. It’s exactly the same debate that opened up in February, when Jennifer Lawrence was pictured posing on a freezing London rooftop in a plunging black gown, while her four male co-stars were snugly wrapped up in coats, jeans, scarves and boots. “I was outside for five minutes,” was Lawrence’s response to the criticism. “I would have stood in the snow for that dress because I love fashion and that was my choice.”

We all choose what we want to wear – freely. Or do we? It’s a thinker. Me, I don’t feel too depressed about the Beyoncé v Ed debacle, because I’ve seen the future, and it’s Sigrid. My 12-year-old daughter and her friends love Sigrid precisely because she goes on stage wearing exactly the same barely thought-out jeans and T-shirts as Ed Sheeran does. That she is free to, and that her fans love her for it, makes me optimistic about the future. Maybe it’s not so much that Ed Sheeran is the problem – it’s that Sigrid is the solution. Although, really, freedom is the solution. This Christmas party season, let us all be free – to dress like kings, queens, scruff bags or whatever else we fancy.


Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran performing at the Global Citizen Festival
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