Fashion history 101: Men in skirts? They've existed for centuries
Skirting the issue
Every time a male celebrity (hello, Ezra Miller, Jonathan Van Ness, and Billy Porter) gets papped wearing a skirt, he quickly becomes fodder for gossip. Conservatives would decry at the gender-bender implications, while liberals would celebrate freedom of expression. However, if you flip through fashion history books, records tell us that men in skirts were no anomaly. Pants and trousers, on the other hand, were actually a more recent invention.
For ancient civilisations, skirts were the outfits de rigueur, regardless of gender and class. The Greeks and Romans favoured loose, drapey togas and chitons, the Egyptians wore the kilt-like shendyt, the Chinese loved their robes and tunics, while the Indians the cotton dhoti. The popularity of skirts in this period can be attributed to the relative ease of fabricating it and the freedom of movement it afforded.
Fast forward to the 14th and 15th centuries, skirts for men came started to lose appeal thanks to the advent of tailoring. Bifurcated garments were created and became popular as men hung up their skirts in favour for stockings, hoses, and petticoat breeches. Another theory for its demise was that the garment was an impractical choice for men who rode horses, and by the early 19th century, the change was almost complete — men wore pants and women wore skirts. The Scottish kilt and the Albanian and Greek fustanella are just some of the traditional skirts for men that still survives today.
The rebellious spirit of the 1960s (think of the civil rights protests, hippies, and the like) and the unisex fashion movement sought to revolutionise social norms and dress codes. By then, skirts were seen as feminine and garb meant exclusively for women, so men who sported them were viewed as outliers of society who blurred the lines of gender. The relationship between skirt and gender still remains inextricably linked today, which (in a nutshell) explains simplistically why men in skirts remain a politically charged phenomenon even in 2019.
Nevertheless, advocates of unisex fashion, fashion-forward male celebrities (see the gallery above), and designers such as Rick Owens, Vivienne Westwood, and Rei Kawakubo continue to advance the cause of skirts being acceptable men’s attire. With history having a perchance for repeating itself, we won't be the least surprised if this humble garment becomes a staple in both men's and women's wardrobes once again in the future.
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