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Do Men in Skirts Deconstruct Masculinity LI ANG XIAO

N0351471 DVC MAY 2011



“Whether clothes are for men or women is all in the head - and none of these are 100 percent.� -----Van Beirendonck (the New York Times, 1999: online)

Introduction T

he skirt is generally seen as a representative object of femininity, which is strongly contrasted against masculinity. Whether men should wear skirt or not is a controversial topic, which has been widely debated in society. In early 20th century, an ever increasing number of women endorsed a n d w o r e m e n ’s t r o u s e r s . C o r r e s p o n d i n g l y, examples of males adopting female skirts, nevertheless, are far more rare. Men have a tendency to “follow a restricted code of dress” (Andrew, 2003: P. 9). In this day and age, while women share the most items from men’s wardrobe, men can only enjoy the few in women’s

be brought into question, which challenges the traditional notions held by the society in which he lives surrounding notions of masculine identify and sexuality. However, skirt for men always have its own characteristics and connotations. As Belgian d e s i g n e r D r i e s Va n Noten said, “There are the same differences b e t w e e n m a n ’s a n d woman’s skirt as there are between man and woman.” (2003: P.9) fig.3

wardrobe. Apparently, the taboo of men in skirts raise a huge asymmetry between male and female. In terms of masculine identity, if a man wearing a skirt and posing a style statement, his gender identity and sexuality may

This essay will explore three different types of masculine identity which is the new man, the new lad and the metrosexual. It will also discuss their relationship with men’s skirt and meanwhile look at how skirts for men been promoted to the public by different designers, stylists, and celebrities.


“Fashion does not necessarily follow biology.� (Kidwell, 1989: P.125)

Men in Skirts Women started to borrow trousers from men and became largely acceptable in society because the meaning of femininity had been re-assessed. However, regardless of the efforts of designers and taste makers’ promotion of skirt for men as a daily, basic aesthetic garment, men in skirts still remains taboo in society. One of the most apparent reason supported by Andrew Bolton ( Man in Skirt, 2003) is that many men fear to wear skirts because the feminine connotations of skirts is too powerful to overcome their masculine identity and even ideas concerning their sexuality might become a crucial issue in public eyes. Ultimately, it is only if society’s definition of masculinity is changed that skirts for men can be accepted and became an alternative to trousers, as trousers for women nowadays. Skirt first entered the fashion system in the 1960s, the French couturier Jacques Esterel was one of the first designers who designed a skirt for men. One of his men’s skirt design in 1966 was inspired by traditional Scottish kilt, formed as a “skirt suit”, this included a checked jacket and a skirt in same pattern. In fact it was not a real skirt, but a pair of shorts with one leg fig.5 wrapped over the other, creating a “skirt-looking” suit. However once skirt for men was presented in fashion industry, many designers includes Jean Paul Gaultier, Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood and Riccardo Tisci and so on, afterwards started thinking about how to put a man in a skirt properly. From the mid-1980s, with regard to masculinity within social context, 3 new different types of masculine identity was formed, which are the “new man”, the “new lad” and the “metrosexual”. In the next section, we will consider the explore these three different types of masculine identity and discuss their relationship with men’s skirt.

New Man “New man” emerged in mid-80s, which was about the time of the first UK men’s lifestyle magazine “Arena” launched, and represented “generally characterised as sensitive, emotionally aware,respectful of women, and egalitarian in outlook— and, in some accounts, as narcissistic and highly invested in his physical appearance, likely to be gay as straight.” (Edwards, 1989: P.37).

D and The Face magazine in mid-1980s were absolutely stood out and impressive, it was also seen as the personification of the “enlightened” male. Once these images emerged, debates around the possibilities of men in skirt was raised in popular press . Striking the right balance between male and masculinity can always be found in Petri’s fashion styling. As Lebon, a famous photographer, comments, “Although Ray’s stylings of men in skirts were very theatrical, they were never effete or effeminate. Ray always tried to offset the feminine connotations of the skirt with masculine props or accessories. The look was not intended to threaten a man’s masculinity, it was intended to enhanced it.” (Man in Skirt, 2003: P.24).

New man was not so conditioned about his appearance, say masculinity, they were more likely to get in touch with their feeling of the heart. Rosalind Gill in the book Masculinity and men’s lifestyle magazines listed couple of different site of production of new man image, magazine played a essential role in the spread of the notion of new man. The people working in creative industry such as The styling he made for i-D, fashion, magazine, advertising imaged a men wearing a pair and retailing, for several years, of high-cut boots and thick desired to create a magazine socks, matching a leather skirt which could target on the with a black heavy belt, fig.6 affluent male consumer (1989: using wide range of P.43). Andrew Bolton also agree with this representative masculine props and point of view, in the book “Men in Skirt” accessories to promote a masculine he appointed “magazine stylist played a aesthetic. crucial role in promoting the image of new man.” (2003: P.24). Through Petri’s styling of men in skirt, fundamentally, he always attempted to Ray Petri is a representative stylist who convey the idea to public that masculinity produced the image of the new man, his is not defined by a particular garment. fashion styling of men in skirts appears in i-

New Lad The concept of “New Lad”, which was seen as a new reaction to the “new man”, and emerged in 1990s when the social definition of masculinity changed. Arguably, the form of new lad endeavours to reemphases the strong masculinity which was considered to have been lost by the development of the group known as the “new man”, that is to say that they compromise on feminism. In Men in the Mirror: Men’s Fashion, Masculinity and Consumer Society Tim Edwards illustrated “Where the New Man was caring and sharing, if overly concerned with the cut of his Calvin Kleins, the New Lad is selfish, loutish and in considerate to a point of infantile smelliness. He likes drinking, football and fucking and in that order of preference.” (1997: P.82). The new lad was promoted mainly by magazines, was most clearly embodied in Loaded, also such as FHM, Maxim spread the image of new lad, marked a return to traditional masculine values of sexism, exclusive male friendship and homophobia (Bethan Benwell, 1989). In addition, television programme for instance Men Behaving Badly functioned in promoting the concept of “New Lad” as well.

Jo Levin using a kilt designed by Dries Van Noten paired a simple cotton tee on model and matched with a rugby ball in photography. This new lad status is definitely unquestionable and undoubted. As Andrew Bolton commented in Man in Skirt, “For many editorial presentations of the new lad, sport is often used to normalize the wearing of skirt, drawing, as it does, on the language of ‘loutishness’. ” (2003: P.27) .The new lad like his non-sexist, post-feminist counterpart new man, was firmly located within the feminine world of consumption.

In particular terms of skirt, ignoring the relatively strong masculinity, it continued to stay in a place to promote the new laddism. One typical photograph convey the idea of new lad is by Jean-Francois Carly shoot for British GQ in 2000. In the photography, he used a muscular model (Kenny Logan, a rugby player) who looks absolutely masculine, however the stylist fig.7

Metrosexual praised as “gentleman” in the past. N o n e t h e l e s s , n owa d ay s i f a m a n overwhelmingly pay attention to his appearance his sexual orientation would be automatically brought into question, it’s became a sensitive part of a man in society ( Sailer, 2003: Online). Warren St. John described the metrosexual in his article “Metrosexual Come Out” published on the New York Times as “A straight urban man willing, even eager, to embrace his feminine side” (2003: Online). Despite the different view points on metrosexual, since it came out the idea of metrosexual is often distilled by the media (Metrosexual Man, 2011: Online), and has become a media phenomena firmly


Admittedly, the new man and the new lad appeared in society and the promotion of these two different masculine type effected how the public judged a man’s masculinity, the new man and new lad within fashion industry promoted the image of men in skirts. Further more, more recently, the metrosexual would probably be the most suitable group of men who willing to wear a skirt in public places. Metrosexual is a new type of masculine identity, originally coined back in 1994 to refer to a man who is in pursuit of a high quality of life, and it connect the characteristics of new man and new lad. A man who enjoys art, listens to classic music, goes to galleries and dresses himself carefully would have been fig.9

located in consumer culture (Andrew, 2003: P.30). A man who “paints his fingernails, braids his hair and poses for gay magazines, all while maintaining a manly profile on the pitch.”(John, 2003: Online), David Beckham was presented by Warren St. John as a metrosexual icon in his article and David has actually been the most times described as the representative of the metrosexual by media. In 1998, when Beckham enjoyed his holiday in the South of France he was photoed wore a sarong by Jean Paul Gaultier, from then on his metrosexual iconic status was confirmed. Later on, Beckham explains about the sarong in “My World”, which is his biography: “There were probably loads of people out there thinking, what’s a man doing in a sarong. What’s going through his head? She’s wearing a trousers and she’s got him wearing a skirt.

But some people with broader minds must have thought, well, he looks good in it, so what’s the problem? Unfortunately, there aren’t enough open-minded people thinking that way.” (2000: P.93). Undeniable, as a metrosexual and fashion icon, Beckham’s adoption of the skirt did surely spread skirt as an ordinary garment which could be faultlessly worn by man, and skirts became acceptable between the metrosexual. Being one of the most influential and famous footballer on this planet, notwithstanding, his image of wearing skirt also effected on lots of his fans as well, of those who tend to warp the flag of their team around their waists. Again, stylists also adopted this from the image and made an effort endlessly promote the skirt “as a viable and practical to trousers” (Andrew, 2003: P.30) inside of a variety of men’s lifestyle magazines.



“Fashion change is a complicated activity, involving individual choice and a vast manufacturing and distribution complex.� (Kidwell, 1989: P.159).

Admittedly, to some extent fashion does express g e n d e r, t h r o u g h a particular garment, physical difference between men and women can be defined, by skirt, for example, which is often seen as the symbol of women and have a s t r o n g f e m i n i n i t y. However, with t h e development of fashion and the d e fi n i t i o n o f masculinity within social context, skirt have been perceived as both feminine and masculine.

combine all the advantages of masculine and feminine dress, while eliminating the disadvantages. Skirt for man, as a controversial fashion, may still being widely unacceptable because people are convinced it confused the gender identity, but as a

“Although promising g e n d e r equality, unisex dress has a l way s b e e n essentially masculine in style.� (Andrew, 2003: P.21). It seems that real androgynous dress, if it existed, could


fashion garment, men’s skirt is not only a expression of selfconfidence and courage, but more about being beautiful in the first place, this has nothing matter to do with any gender or, specifically, masculinity. Men and women would never be the same, their clothing would not as well. However, both men and women have the right to pursue beauty and e x p r e s s themselves, in this term, men and women should all be valued equally for their differences. Some times in the future, when this idea does truly build in society, men in skirt will be widely accepted and without any pressure around it, the definition of masculinity also will be become broader.

(word: 2100)


ILLUSTRATIONS Cover. 5e06319eda06f020e43594a9c230972d/f/i/file_3_24.jpg fig.1 fig.2 fig.3 fig.4 Vivienne Westwood, A/W 2000-2001 Photograph by Randall Mesdon for aRUDE, 2000 Styled by Miles Cockfield

fig.5 Skirt suit by Jacques Esterel, 1966 fig.6 Photograph by Jamie Morgan for The Face, 1984 Styled by Ray Petri

fig.7 Kenny Logan in a kilt by Dries Van Noten Photography by Jean-Francois Carly for GQ, 2000 Styled by Jo Levin

fig.8 David Beckham in a sarong by Jean Paul Gaultier fig.9 fig.10 fig.11 fig.12 Jean Paul Gaultier Photograph by Jean-Marie Perier for French E"e, 1994

REFERENCE 1. Van Beirendonck, 1999: online 2. Andrew, 2003: P.9 3. Dries Van Noten, interview 4. Kidwell, 1989: P.125 5. Edwards, 1989: P.37 6. Andrew, 2003: P.24 7. Lebon, 2003: P.24 8. Edwards, 1997: P.82 9. Andrew, 2003: P.27 10. Sailer, 2003: Online 11. John, 2003: Online 12. John, 2003: Online 13. David Beckham, 2000: P.93 14. Andrew, 2003: P.30 15. Kidwell, 1989: P.159 16. Andrew, 2003: P.21

BIBLIOGRAPHY Books 1. Beckham, D (2000). My World. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, London. 2. Benwell, B (2003). Masculinity and Men’s Fashion Lifestyle Magazine. Blackwell, Oxford. 3. Bolton, A. (2003). Men in Skirt. V&A Publication, London. 4. Edwards, T. (1997). In Men in the Mirror: Men’s Fashion, Masculinity and Consumer Society. Continuum International Publishing, London. 5. Kidwell, C and Steele, V, eds., Men and Women: Dressing the Part. Smithsonian Books, Washington. 6. Reilly, A & Cosbey, S. (2008). Men's Fashion Reader. Fairchild Books, USA.

Websites 1. Menkes, S. What Is a Man?Eclecticism and Whimsy Flourish in Paris. the New York Times. accessed: 28/04/2011 2. John, W. Metrosexuals Come Out. the New York Times. accessed: 30/04/2011 3. Sailer, S. The Decline of the Metrosexual. the American Conservative. accessed: 30/4/2011 4. Who are the metrosexual men?. Metrosexual Men. accessed: 30/4/2011

Man in Skirt  

an essay explor do men in skirts deconstruct masculinity.