Back in the saddle: what the harness on the red carpet means

On a red carpet where Lizzo channelled Marilyn MonroeTyler, the Creator dressed as the bellhop from The Grand Budapest Hotel and everyone went yay from yee–haw, the Grammys saw the return of the harness.

Lil Nas X wore a bubblegum pink Versace outfit: stetson, cropped studded jacket, pink cowboy boots and a harness over a mesh top. The harness was embroidered with buckles that looked like horse shoes, Texan stars and gold coins with the Versace logo on them. Meanwhile, Charles Anderson from the band Social House wore a bespoke ice-cubed-silver harness from Louis Vuitton featuring customised orange patches.

Charles Anderson (left) of Social House with his bandmate Michael Foster
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 Charles Anderson (left) of Social House with his bandmate Michael Foster. Photograph: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The harness has become a regular feature on the red carpet (Kerry Washington wore a diamond-encrusted one at the Golden Globes earlier this month): a subversive note for traditionally conservative red-carpet dress. It helped that the Grammys were noticeably diverse and unique (shout out to Steve Lacey in his Comme des Garçons skirt and Billy Porter’s hat with its “automatic doors” fringe feature).

Anderson’s harness was made for Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh, who put Timothée Chalamet in a black bedazzled one at the Golden Globes in 2019 – disrupting men’s red-carpet looks for ever after.

For Lil Nas X, the look marked an end and a new beginning. Before the show, his stylist, Hodo Musa, told the Los Angeles Times that it was the final time he would be bringing out the cowboy garms. “This will be the last time that we [will] do a full-on cowboy look like this,” she said. “This is the era that is the end of Old Town Road, and we’ll do something else.”

Kerry Washington at the Golden Globes in January 2020
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 Kerry Washington at the Golden Globes earlier this month. Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The harness falls into a menswear trend for next season: Berghain-like, S&M-referencing looks crept into the autumn/winter menswear shows earlier this month, with looks that were sexy and strange, hinting at a sense of collective anxiety with a hint of dystopia. Salvatore Ferragamo featured a gimpy leather jumpsuit, Ludovic de Saint Sernin a couple of whips, and John Lawrence Sullivan some leather headgear that wouldn’t be out of place in Madonna’s Sex book.

Foreshadowing it might be, but on the red carpet its role is to provide its wearer with a specific type of “OMG moment”: a wow factor that gives the wearer a previously unheralded edge.

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