Men Wearing Skirts and Dresses

Howie Nicholsby's 21st Century Kilts

In summer time the fashion is easy - cool even - with a well-ventilated skirt or dress instead of sweaty, sticky slacks. Unless you're a guy in the Western world - then your sartorial knee-length box-pleated skirt could heat things up to an inflammatory degree. So, what's the deal about men wearing skirts and dresses?

Mini, Maxi, Male, Maybe

Women wear pants and most people don't see that choice as an issue. However, a man in a dress or skirt can raise eyebrows. Clothing is clothing, but when it is attached to gender prejudices, it can be controversial.

Arguments for Males Wearing Skirts and Dresses

Jaden Smith

Some arguments supporting why skirts and dresses are reasonable body coverings for males or females include the following beliefs:

  • They are comfortable and non-constricting.
  • They are cooler in summer and hot climates.
  • They are attractive.
  • People should be at liberty to dress as they like.
  • Fashion mavens with a sense of style should have free rein to explore, experiment, and ignore boundaries.
  • Attitudes are sexualized, not fabric. Neither gender has a lock on a mini or maxi skirt.
  • Garments without sewn legs, such as the ancient Greek chiton worn by men and women, are the most traditional garb in the ancestry of every culture.
  • Women wear pants, so turnabout is fair play.
  • Pants are a relatively new development in the history of the human race and the wearing of pants by men is nowhere carved in stone.
  • Fashion is freedom of expression and men wearing skirts and dresses are exercising their First Amendment rights.

Beliefs Some Have Against Skirts on Men

On the flip side - some individuals have beliefs about why men should not wear skirts or dresses:

  • They look weird (to the objector).
  • They look effeminate.
  • It is disruptive and can distract students or workers.
  • Men shouldn't diminish their social stature by copying the "inferior" sex's clothing styles.
  • Men wearing skirts and dresses violates religious restrictions or traditions.
  • It's confusing and telegraphs homosexuality.
  • It's a deliberate provocation and could incite violence.
  • It signifies the moral breakdown of society.
  • It's drafty.
  • Manspreading

The prejudice against men wearing clothing currently associated with women - not the case in every culture - has more to do with the attitude of the offended than with any restriction conferred by the clothing itself. Beliefs run deep, however, and there are people and places not ready to accept gender fluidity in fashion.

Choosing to wear dresses and skirts if you are male may be taken as a political statement instead of mere personal preference. Because the choice can be controversial, making it can require some caution.

Know Your History

Traditional Thai clothes
Traditional Thai clothes

Men have always worn loose, unbifurcated clothing, from animal skins to Mandarin robes to the brightly wrapped sarongs of Polynesia.

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans had their loose chitons and togas.
  • Egyptians wore wrap-around linen skirts called shendyt. Traditional robes are everyday dress for men in Arab countries who still wear loose, flowing kaftans, abayas and chansons.
  • Men in Fiji wear the sulu vakataga, a fabric wrap that tucks over at the waist and reaches midway between knee and ankle. In Tahiti, they call that a pareo, in Hawaii it's a kikepa.
  • Indonesians have a sarong and Samoans wear a sarong or a faitaga (a longer, formal garment with pockets).
  • India has the dhoti and the lungi - any of these fabric wraps may be worn solo or with a jacket and shirt, even a tie.
  • The Scottish, or Celtic, kilt is commonly accepted traditional dress in Gaelic cultures and versions of it turn up often on the streets of major international cities, like New York or L.A.

Skirt Chic, Celebrity Style

Alan Cumming Attending 8th Annual 'Dressed to Kilt' Charity Fashion Show
Alan Cumming

Jaden Smith, Kanye West, Diddy, Alan Cumming, Prince William, Jared Leto - these are dudes who know how to rock a dress or skirt. The casual - or royal - choice to slip a sweatshirt dress over denim shorts or kit out in a full tartan three-piece suit and tie with kilt and your Order of the British Empire medal pinned to your lapel is a nonchalant perk of celebrity.

Kanye goes for black leather skirts (Givenchy) over black leather or waxed jeans. Jaden layers swing shirts, vests and flowy skirts or dresses over bike shorts or cut-offs. The future King of England is just in uniform - no one bats an eye. Fame makes the unusual familiar, and the influence of big stars and public figures who show a little knee to an adoring public sets trends and breaks down barriers. If Kurt Cobain could wear Courtney Love's dresses and Seth Meyers can emcee in Comme des Garcons, why fuss over an unbroken hemline?

A-OK in Academia

Men can wear skirts at Oxford University - not just academic gowns, but skirts, as long as they are dark in color and accompanied by dark stockings and shoes and a white shirt. All this goes under traditional Oxford gowns as a required discipline for sitting exams. In 2010, the university, which was founded in the eleventh century, responded to student concerns - and pressure - about the confusion caused to transgender students by Oxford's strict dress regulations.

The relaxed regulation simply drops the gender distinction between female and male students when detailing acceptable exam attire. If you want to sit your Applied Linguistics exam in white tie and a black pleated number, nobody's stopping you, George or Georgette.

Don't Be a Fashion Fail

 Bipa fashion show: Ivana Janjic, Zagreb, Croatia.
Fashion design by Ivana Janjic

Wear the look you love, but go easy on the eyes of your observers. Work with your body for a fit that is flattering, just as you would with any other article of clothing.

  • A skirt with a bit of give or elastic in the waistband could be the trick to balancing your slim hips with a typical male waist - which is not very hourglass.
  • If you have really broad shoulders, a sleeveless dress with generously cut-in arm holes will give you some breathing room.
  • Try a skirt layered over leggings, shorts or pants, and you won't have to worry about the "knees-together" thing. Wear your kilt with a jacket and tie for business attire.

Don't forget to dress for the season, too. Knee-high boots balance the expanse of bare leg under a skirt in cooler weather. A cardigan can take the place of a jacket over a dress for a less-structured look and easier fit.

Shop 'Til You Drop

You can't wear it until you own it, so check out a few places to fill your closet with skirts and dresses. Don't forget thrift stores and consignment shops for designer bargains and lots of great pieces to mix and match. The Plus Size sections of department stores might just carry that current style you've got to have.

  • Utilikilts: Utilikilts started as a funding idea for an art project and rapidly grew into a thriving business. The Seattle company makes six models of useful kilts with pockets and plain tailoring that are designed to substitute for pants. They are not cheap at about $200 to $330 per kilt, but they are sharp, durable, and functional.
  • Sport Kilt: Sport Kilt is a lightweight fabric in a classic design, made for active wear, running, hiking, and team sports. Prices range from about $60 (small and medium) to about $90 for XXL, so nobody gets left out. The kilts come in a variety of tartans with elastic closures for extra give - and they can be customized.
  • TG Fashions: TG Fashions carries dresses sized for a man's body and a full array of body-shaping undergarments and accessories. They cater to the transgender community, and prices, for lots of different dress styles, are very reasonable.
  • UTSav Fashion: UTSav Fashion offers a wide fabric and price range for traditional Indian kurtas and sherwanis with dress-like tunics from just above knee-length to mid-calf. Most of the fabrics tend toward the dressy - silk and embroidered finishes - and worldwide shipping is free.
  • Alloy: Alloy sells women's clothing for big and tall sizes. They've got you covered with trendy mini and maxi styles, casual to party night threads, low prices, and a big selection.

Skirting Solidarity

There are all kinds of reasons for men to hit the streets in dresses and skirts. A group of Turkish men in Istanbul wore skirts to a rally protesting sexual violence against women. Putting on a skirt can signify solidarity with members of the opposite gender but it can also erase artificial barriers based on identity.

Men who wear skirts and dresses because they enjoy the appearance or the ease of movement the fashion affords are blurring the superficial lines that separate men, women, transgendered people, and any other definition that serves to divide. You in your kilt and your girlfriend in her boyfriend jeans are just telegraphing how you see yourself, a little bit fashion forward and a lot open to examining old biases that are due for a new look.

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