men in skirts: can you dig it?
Since the end of the Victorian era, men’s fashion has been pretty darn boring. The 20th century saw men coupling their upper-body wear with almost exclusively pants, shorts or other bifurcated items of lower-body wear, and that’s been it. Not a skirt in sight unless we count Scottish kilts, which, outside of Scotland, feature only at weddings and other such formal occasions, anyway. Maybe it was the industrial revolution forcing people into factories where overalls and other pant-based garments proved safest, or maybe it’s that societal values such as modesty and sobriety started taking precedence over Romantic era frivolity and pomp. Whatever the reason, most 20th and early 21st century men’s fashion was dull, drab and predictable. My question is, why?
Sure, there have been a few attempts to diversify the scene over the years – the unisex fashion movement of the ’60s saw women don pants; men wore floral shirts in the ’70s; and designer Jean Paul Gaultier has made numerous attempts to bring back male skirts in the past thirty-odd years (starting from his Spring ’84 ‘Et Dieu Créa l’Homme’ (‘And God Created Man’) collection) – but on the whole, nothing has really changed. Is it a question of gender normativity, lazy designers, or closed minds unwilling to accept new ideas?
Inevitably, how we dress and what we wear affects how we feel – as they say, clothes make the man (or the woman). But is something like a man wearing a skirt really so radical? After all, women have been wearing pants for decades, and though it took some time for it to become wholly socially accepted, jeans and trousers are now so much part of the average Western woman’s wardrobe that to imagine life without them would be difficult. The situation with men seems to be much more rigid.
Today, it almost seems that it’s not the men who wear the clothes; it’s the clothes that wear the men. Men are confined to pants and shorts, and if they branch out into skirts, dresses or even a very colourful vest, questions of homosexuality, transvestism or questionable manhood often arise. And while these reactions may seem unreasonable to forward-thinking Lip readers, the issue is not so simple.
Imagine, as Charlie Porter did in an article for The Guardian in 2002 , a man dressed in an above-the-knee skirt going to your local shops to get a carton of milk. Everything else is the same as it would otherwise be – he’s wearing a shirt and tie, or else a jumper and some trainers – but instead of pants or shorts, he’s wearing a skirt. As Charlie Porter put it, ‘[h]owever radical you think yourself, whatever open-minded stances you take on sexuality and nonconformism, you would more than likely laugh at him or, worse, feel ashamed.’
Personally, I don’t think that I would react that way – in fact, I have seen men in skirts before, and it was no big thing. Maybe my mind has been opened to the idea by designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and fashion blogs like The Sartorialist, or maybe I just don’t care how others dress, but it was totally fine. I would hope that people wouldn’t be so closed-minded as to feel shame for someone else for their choice of clothing, but, as we’ve seen, people are wont to shame others for their choices, even where these choices don’t affect those judging in the least – homophobia, anyone? Nevertheless, the issue remains – is the world ready for men in skirts again?
One possible test for whether the world is ready is whether heterosexual women would be happy with their boyfriends/partners/husbands wearing skirts in public. Personally, I don’t know how I would feel about it. Sure, I think that men’s fashion is boring – that it could do with some variation – and sure, I’m fine when men I don’t know wear skirts around me, but to be in a sexual relationship with a skirt-wearer? I don’t know if I’m there yet. He’d have to be extremely masculine in every other sense (whatever ‘extremely masculine’ means). And even then…
What do you think? Are we ready for men’s skirts again? Could you date a skirt-wearer? And what about accessories and footwear – could you go out with a man who wears necklaces, handbags or heels?