When considering the history of fashion, the meaning of the male skirt has been interpreted several ways within different cultures and societies, and has since drastically changed within the modern world. With the idea of the skirt being a predominantly feminine garment, men wearing skirts has now become a controversial subject and has lead to the garment becoming a statement of expression when worn by men all over the world. The type of skirt worn by a man has also been interpreted differently within modern cultures and societies, with some being more generally accepted than others, such as the kilt. Kilts have remained a male tradition throughout the past and are the most renowned male skirt within the fashion industry due to their deep roots and history. The use of fabric for kilts is incredibly symbolic of these traditions with the tartan fabric representing each Scottish Clan.
The fabric and silhouette of the kilt itself is now used in several different subcultures and scenarios today. Such as the tartan pattern and the kilt being a key theme used by men during the rebellious era of punk, therefore giving the fabric a completely different meaning to its origins. However, many British schools in the present-day use tartan skirts as school uniform for girls, giving the fabric a sense of professionalism and uniformity whilst still conforming to the idea that skirts are for women. With these two interpretations of the overall fabric and silhouette of the kilt being vastly different, the context in which a male wears a skirt is crucial to ensure the wearer is giving the right impression. (Scottish at Heart, 2017)Going back to the origins of the skirt, there are some key themes and meanings which have remained the same throughout history and are still true to this present day. With skirts dating back to as early as 3900 BC, they had originally been intended to serve primarily as a means of protection as opposed to means of expression. With regards to this, both men and women wore skirts or robes. This is shown in the quote “Loose robes were worn by both sexes, styles were simple and unchanging.
Societies existed for the most part at subsistence level and were in many respects free of marked differences in wealth or class.” – (Wilson. E, (2003), P19).
The words “simple and unchanging” show how fashion within history was primarily intended as a means of warmth and protection instead of a fashion trend due to the simplicity and innocence of the garments themselves. With the garments being “unchanging” this suggests the overall aesthetic of the garments was generally an afterthought and little time and energy was put into the idea of reinventing something that already served its function. (Wilson, E. 2003)With the only real division within society being more heavily focused on wealth and social status instead of gender, the type of fabrics used indicated whether a person was rich or poor. The words “Dress distinguished rich from poor, rulers from ruled only in that working people wore more wool and no silk, rougher materials and with less ornamentation than their masters.” – (Wilson. E, (2003), P19) support this by explaining how the use of soft, ornamented fabrics indicated a person’s wealth as opposed to plain, rough fabrics. Meaning those who could afford luxury fabrics used them as a way of expressing their superiority over the working class.
Wealth and status was also indicated by whether a garment had been draped or sewn, with the rich typically wearing sewn garments. This is explained in the words “Indeed the most fundamental distinction in dress is not, as we might suppose today, that between male and female, but the distinction between the draped and the sewn.” – (Wilson. E, (2003), P17). This explains how the divide within society was more heavily exaggerated by whether the person could afford to pay for elaborately crafted clothing to flaunt their wealth and separate themselves from the poor. The phrase “…dress is not, as we might suppose today, that between male and female…” exaggerates that the division in dress back then was more heavily weighted on wealth and status, and not gender as it is today. Following on from this, the divide between the rich and poor became more predominate during the fourteenth century. This is supported within the phrase “The fourteenth century saw the proliferation of much more elaborate styles for both men and women than any seen hitherto.
The doublet for men was worn very short and tight, the cote hardie, a long tunic buttoned down the front, was also worn tight-fitting by both men and women of the upper classes.” – (Wilson. E, (2003), P20). The words “elaborate” and “upper classes” show how fashion evolved to become more of an expressive statement to show the separation between the social classes and give another meaning to garments, aesthetically, which once existed purely to serve a single purpose. (Wilson, E, 2003)As time continued fashion became more of a trend and statement rather than serving primarily for functionality. The rich and upper classes dressed in detailed, decorated garments covered in jewels and embroidery as an expression of wealth.
The differences in men’s and women’s fashion were still similar with women mainly adopting masculine fashion trends to the point where both genders burred together. This is shown in the words “By the close of the fifteenth century, fashionable dress has become so fantastical and absurd that it was difficult to tell men from women at a distance.” – (Wilson. E, (2003), P118). With men and women being difficult to tell apart in dress, this explains how historically society was more concerned with wealth and social class when it came to fashion. Leading up to the sixteenth century women increasingly adopted masculine fashion traits with both sexes continuing to blur together. This is supported within the phrase “…bisexual styles in which both men and women appeared flat chested, wore ruffs and appropriated the masculinity of high-crowned hats and simultaneously the androgynous splendour of slashed and jewelled bodices.” – (Wilson.
E, (2003), P118). The words “bisexual” and “androgynous” show how gender roles in society were still relatively non-existent, with jewelled bodices being worn by both sexes and women typically conforming to a more masculine sense of dress. This further shows how skirts within history have been a unisex garment, even being primarily masculine. (Wilson, E. 2003)The idea of the skirt becoming a feminine garment became of significance during the eighteenth century around the time of the industrial revolution where trousers were more practical for men to wear due to the line of work they were in.
This is shown within the quote “In general, however, in the early industrial period gender difference was more firmly marked by dress. Fashion became an important instrument in a heightened consciousness of gendered individuality.” – (Wilson. E, (2003), P120). The phrase “consciousness of gendered individuality” shows that in this specific period, society became more concerned with what men and women were wearing to separate the two genders and as a means of expression and superiority. It was at this time that gender roles became more apparent within society and the traditional stereotypes of men going out to work whilst the women stayed at home began. This is when trousers grew in popularity within masculine fashion trends and the skirt or dress became predominantly female. However, trousers for men had been around before this period with fishermen out at sea starting to adopt trousers as a more efficient way of dressing as opposed to the traditional hose.
This is due to trousers being cheaper and easier to make and repair. This was especially important for men out at sea due to them being away from the mainland for months at a time, therefore needing to be able to repair garments themselves. This is supported through the words “…clothes adapted to the task of protecting them from the harshness of life at sea and they have long made their way into everyday menswear.” This exaggerates how trousers became a masculine garment due to the labour-intensive work carried out by men throughout history. (Wilson, E. 2003) (McDonald, L.
2017)Today the meaning of skirts is vastly different with many different labels and stereotypes being assigned to the garment depending on which gender it is being worn by. In 21st century society, gender and sexuality has become much more diverse and generally accepted within western culture, therefore leading to both sexes identifying and experimenting with androgyny. However, some societies and cultures still hold onto the eighteenth-century traditions of skirts being specifically for women. With the most common stereotype of men wearing skirts indicating the wearer’s sexuality, many people still come to the same assumption of if a man is wearing a skirt, he’s homosexual. The quote explains this through the words “Although feminist theory has questioned whether gender can be simply mapped onto sexuality, it has sometimes still tended to assume that in the end the two coincide.” – (Wilson.
E, 2003, P120). This supports the argument by suggesting that society still assumes there is a direct correlation between gender and sexuality. This explains that when a man wears a predominantly feminine garment, it can be used to express individuality as well as sexual orientation. Following on from this, a man wearing a skirt doesn’t always indicate sexuality and is simply a means of eradicating the division between menswear and womenswear, as well as moving fashion forward from traditional, eighteenth-century traditions and stereotypes. (Wilson, E. 2003)Many male celebrities have started to adopt the skirt into their wardrobe as a way of reinventing their image as well as empowering not only themselves, but others into being comfortable in their own skin and expressing their originality. Celebrities such as Jaden Smith, David Beckham, Kanye West, Vin Diesel, Jared Leto, Marc Jacobs, and Jean Paul Gaultier have all been known to wear skirts to ceremonies, shows, day to day life and introducing them into modern menswear collections.
This is supported by the following quote from Marc Jacobs in an online press article: “It’s kind of like a kilt and a short… I discovered how nice it felt to wear. They’re comfortable, wearing it made me happy, so I bought more. And now I can’t stop wearing them.”. – (Elle.com, 2011) With Jacobs saying they’re comfortable and wearing them made him feel good, it shows how wearing a certain type of garment can improve your confidence. The idea of comfort and freedom to move whist wearing a skirt as a man may support the argument towards the anatomy of men indicating skirts are in fact more suited to the male body. Aesthetically Vin Diesel is known for being very masculine, and him wearing a skirt gives another argument towards skirts being unisex as opposed to feminine.
(Elle.com, 2011)This also helps toward eradicating the stereotype of the male skirt indicating homosexuality. This is shown through the words “Modern fashion plays endlessly with the distinction between masculinity and femininity.
With it we express our shifting ideas about what masculinity and femininity are.” – (Wilson. E, 2003, P122).
The words “fashion plays” and “shifting ideas” show how within modern society, the divide between what’s masculine and what’s feminine are becoming less and less apparent, and the idea of eighteenth century tradition slowly fading into a part of history. The word “endlessly” also states how fashion is timeless and although modern fashion is steering away from gender stereotypes, there will always be an underlining meaning behind the tradition of garments themselves. (Wilson, E. 2003)With celebrities being a massive influence on modern day fashion, the amount the wearer is idolised drastically affects the way society sees a garment and the stereotypes and labels that come with them. With national idols such as David Beckham being seen wearing a skirt, this sends off a vastly different image than the one set by Kanye West, who isn’t as highly regarded in modern day society as Beckham is. This is seen in the words “…changes in popular culture – streetstyle, music, fashion, film, TV, etc.
– give a unique insight into the really fundamental, underlying changes in attitude, beliefs and values which have shapes history since WWII” – (Polhemus. T, 2017). This explains how the popular traditions, culture and contexts of the time influence fashion, attitudes, beliefs, and values. The argument can be made that celebrity fashions and styles within the modern day hugely impact the way people think and feel about pushing the gender boundaries in the fashion industry.
(Polhemus, T. 2017)To put it briefly, the ideas and homophobic stereotypes of men wearing skirts originated from the traditional eighteenth century ideas of skirts become feminine. In modern society we are starting to push these boundaries and traditions by playing with gender roles and androgyny within both menswear and womenswear.
With increasing popularity of body positivity as well as sexual acceptance, the male skirt is slowly working its way back into mainstream fashion and becoming a symbol of empowerment to men and women of all genders and sexual orientation