We’re hours away from the release of Zayn’s solo debut, which is hardly enough time to comb over every outfit he’s worn since leaving One Direction almost exactly a year ago. Do you remember where you were? I do. I was in my kitchen wearing pajamas and also an expression of profound disbelief.
But I digress.
Thanks to Justin Timberlake and his noughties-era fedoras, we know that the fastest way to break from your boy-band persona is to delve into a form of advanced personal style. So, via his penchant for casual white button-ups, all-black everything, and shirts that say “TRUTH” (which is most definitely a statement, but arguably not the one he was probably going for), Zayn has done just that — setting his eyes on the future by experimenting with texture, lack of color, and everything 1D deprived him of.
Style is the second-biggest character in Zayn's solo narrative. At roughly the same age, Justin Bieber is embracing thrift-store chic in oversize Nirvana t-shirts and kilts worn over jeans, wearing his experimentalism on his (literal) sleeve, and therefore very loudly declaring to his fans and anybody willing to listen that he is actively still figuring it out. (By dressing like an aesthetically daring 22-year-old.)
Zayn, on the other hand, already has it all figured out -- or at least that’s what he’s projecting with his clean lines, array of neutrals, combat boots, and ripped jeans. With every intentionally distressed piece of clothing (or, in the case of his Complex story, the absence of a shirt), Zayn tells us that he is on-point, on-brand, and intentional. And yes, so is Bieber. But where Bieber is having fun with his wardrobe, Zayn is trying to grow up and be serious. He’s not a boy, he’s a grown-ass man. And that’s what his solo campaign is all about.
This is important to remember when comparing the Zayn of today with the Zayn of yore. True, One Direction’s camp held him back from complete self-expression, but considering that the boys went on to dress however they wanted during the group’s last year (see: Harry’s inability to button up his tops and Louis’s refusal to wear anything but jogging pants), Zayn’s current choices aren’t so much reactionary as they are a way for him to make a bold new statement of self. His style choices are his new partners in crime. So we see that he layers confidently. We notice that he follows trends without losing himself to them. We appreciate that he cloaks himself in dark colors, evoking mystery and magic and feelings typically reserved for a screening of Phantom of the Opera. And he unbuttons his tops to levels Harry himself would be nervous to try, one-upping 1D’s riskiest dresser because he can.
Zayn’s clothes tell a story -- mainly that Zayn has arrived, and his connection to the past has been severed via high fashion and proximity to Gigi Hadid. And while his style will obviously evolve the longer he stays in the game -- like JT’s transition from fedora wearer to suit-and-tie aficionado -- it will continue to tell us exactly the way he wants us to see him.
In this case, Zayn is using fashion to position himself as a guy who’s sure enough in his talents and persona to justify releasing an entire album of his own music. Or at the very least, as a guy who seems qualified to drop the f-bomb at the top of his second single, “It’s You.”
Maybe “she don’t, she don’t, she don’t give a fuck,” but Zayn does. And that’s OK.