Summer Nicks explores the world of manskirts, a world steeped in controversy and stormy debate, not-to-mention amusing pictures of men in skirts…
In these times of confused and infused gender identities, the inclination of men’s fashion toward the traditionally feminine and the clichéd, post-modern term of “metrosexuality” is hardly surprising. But, is menswear and cosmetics pour l’homme just another cleverly marketed strategy for the gullible consumer, or are they a genuine indication of a changing sense of masculinity? Well, I’m not going to answer that question because quite honestly, I don’t know. More than likely the answer is both or somewhere in between. I will however, go on a little about the manskirt and provide some hilarious pics to boot.
Fashion in the ‘90s was characterised by androgyneity, evident in the rise of neutral styles paraded by skeletal female models with bodies not unlike ungainly prepubescent boys. Fashion in the noughties, on the other hand, is proving to be much more flamboyant.
Post-millennium bourgeois bohemian, grunge and gothic fashion are merging with modern pop culture and setting new trends worldwide without the ‘90s bland, asexual flavour. It’s no longer understated sexuality but a distinctly over-the-top vulgarity that has taken precedence.
And it’s not just metrosexuals, narcissists, fashionistas; fusionist, queers, mods, goths or girls that are revelling in the newfound expression, but lads are getting in on the act as well. Yes, your regular boys-next-door are shedding the shackles of a conventional code of masculinity and emerging fresh with mascara, lip gloss, eye pencils and, of course, manskirts.
Celebrities including David Beckham, INXS’ Michael Huthence and Placebo front man Brian Molko have all proudly sported skirt variations in recent years, but there’s nothing really new about the trend. Throughout history, the skirt has appeared in popular men’s fashion in different cultures around the world. The Greek toga is the most known example. Others include Scotland’s kilt, the South Pacific and South East Asian sarong, the lungi from Northern India and the Bhutanese pho. In contemporary men’s fashion, French designer Jacques Esterel pioneered the first modern manskirt on the catwalk in 1966. Since then, leading fashion designers including Donna Karan, Versace, Yohi Yamamoto, Kenzo, Burberry, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana have all pitched the manskirt phenomenon.
Rock stars, footballers and high fashion aside, would the average straight Joe-blow ever don a skirt in public? The answer is most likely a resounding NO! Then again, who the hell is “the average Joe-blow” and why do we care about his opinion anyway?
You don’t have to be a flamingly sexy homosexual to pull off this look. Although people the world over collectively rolled their eyes when metrosexual pinup boy David Beckham stepped out in his sarong and upstaged his wife Victoria – and one must admit he still looked like a raging, masculine hetero. A man in an Asian-style wrap does show a certain carefree attitude. After all, Thai men have worn traditional manskirts forever and look how laidback they are!
The hegemonic western male clothing item of pants in the United States or trousers in the UK has come to define masculinity in a capitalist environment. Not long ago, women in the West fought and won the right to wear pants, the clothing item thereby becoming a symbol of their sexual and civil revolution. Men, on the other hand, are ridiculed or forced to feel ashamed about wearing anything straying from bifurcated garments. But, thanks largely to the Internet, men who enjoy wearing skirts are now growing an avid following.
In manskirt discourses, two competing ideologies have emerged: Bravehearts v Freestylers. Adopting the name from Mel Gibson’s film of the same name, Bravehearts “wish to maintain an unambiguously masculine appearance, while wearing kilts and other unbifurcated garments that provide greater comfort and freedom to the male anatomy than trousers,” according to website Kiltmen.com. Freestylers, however, claim fashion should be just as free for men as it currently is for women. Freestylers’ belief of “fashion freedom” rejects preconceived notions of gendered fashion and even goes so far as to encourage cross-dressing.
Although the two groups disagree on the issue of transvestitism, both stand united against what they call “Trouser Tyranny”. According to manskirt buffs, Trouser Tyranny is rampant in Western societies. In more gender-ambiguous South and Southeast Asian countries, Trouser Tyranny may not be so indiscriminate, as exceptions are made for men wearing traditional clothes that resemble skirts. But in urban settings, or anywhere where Western clothing is favoured, Trouser Tyranny is common, creating a stifling constriction (literally) on male fashion.
But times and looks are changing. In an era of celebrated ostentatiousness, all you ladies better watch out. If this manskirt fad catches on, you’ll not only be competing with each other for the fashion spotlight, but with your boyfriends too.