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Why has the skirt become synonymous with femininity?

Natasha Flannery N0556891 BA (Hons) Fashion Design Year 1 DCCT10001: Design, Culture and Context 1 Lorraine Warde 2015


Fig2. Autumn/Winter menswear collection (2015) by Dries Van Noten

Fig1. Autumn/Winter menswear collection (2015) by Dries Van Noten

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Introduction When reading over all the Autumn/Winter fashion show reports of 2015 I spotted a regular appearance of skirts and dresses. Normally, you wouldn’t think this unusual, however this was trending among the menswear collections. It seemed that the skirt had become much more popular for men over recent seasons. Previously my perception of men wearing skirts was that it belonged exclusively to potent figures in fashion, such as Marc Jacobs. I found this prevalence intriguing and wanted to investigate why in society we assign particular styles of clothing to specific genders. After asking some of my fellow female students about this trend, some felt that the wearing of a skirt by a man was slightly effeminate. Why does this garment have such feminine connotations? Where has this association derived from? This led me to consider the expression of femininity in contemporary menswear. Whilst I have previously been aware of the use of androgyny in womenswear, it occurred to me that the use femininity in menswear was not treated with the same level of acceptance. My starting point was to look at what we define as masculinity in our modern day society and our perceptions of gender. Using these principles I wanted to explore why the skirt has become synonymous with femininity.

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What is masculinity? What defines clothing to be masculine or feminine? Why does our society think it is degrading for men to be feminine? To understand why we have come to associate the skirt as being a feminine garment we first need to identify where these initial perceptions of what is defined as masculine and feminine come from. Masculinity is by definition a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles generally associated with boys and men and femininity is a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles generally associated with girls and women. The word association here points out that we have learnt to identify particular garments with a gender, conditioned to do so through association. Using the principles of Bandura’s (1977) Social Learning Theory, it can be explained that we have learned to stereotype genders through our observations as children. Our environment and society we live in has taught us what features define an individual as masculine or feminine. As a young girl I was always dressed up in skirts and dresses whilst my brother was dressed in only trousers. Therefore from an early age I was nurtured to define skirts as a feminine item. Furthermore Bandura suggests that we are more likely to imitate behaviour from role models of the same sex, which reinforces us to act in a gender conforming way.

“I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago…. When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me.” (Watson, E., 2015,) An influential feminist of current times, Emma Watson, here recalls her observations of gender stereotyping whilst growing up. These support the idea that as a society we have come to have very rigid gender perceptions, particularly when it comes to expressing ourselves. We have been brought up to believe we should behave in a certain way according to our gender. Women can be afraid of being perceived as too masculine and men can be afraid of being perceived as too feminine. However as a feminist myself it seems obvious that certain clothing or looks should not be restricted to just one gender. Whilst these behavioural theories can explain how the skirt has become a design representative of femininity, it does not necessarily tell us why. Commenting on this trend, rapper Kanye West states:

“We have been brainwashed into thinking this is some sort of feminine act. One of the most masculine things you can do is put on a skirt. I believe this will soon be the norm.” (West, K., 2014)

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Fig3. Gary Cooper and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. (1933) by Unknown photographer

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Fig4. Comme des Garcons Autumn/Winter collection in Arena Homme Plus (1998) by Mike Thomas

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In criticising the categorising of a skirt as being exclusively feminine, he has pointed out that historically the skirt was also originally a male garment. Men had been wearing skirts as part of their everyday dress in western culture up until the late 18th and the early 19th century, so in fact the idea that it is a feminine garment is a relatively new one. It is only since the early 20th century that menswear started to become more restricted and formal, as shown in Fig3. However since the shift from modern to post-modern times in the 1960’s we have started to see less distinction between styles of the genders again. As a whole, post-modernism was all about challenging these narrow views and constraints we held from the modernist age. Post-modernism was at its height in the 1980’s, which coincidently is when the new man image began to form. The new man was described as non-sexist and post-feminist and had more sartorial freedom with the way he dressed, as seen in Fig4. As these new ideals for gender have only become prominent in the last 30 years it will take some time for them to become established in society, as gender conformity is so ingrained in our society. Despite this my initial observation of the men in skirts trend becoming more popular does suggest these post-modernist ideas are starting to take effect. “Ultimately, men’s roles in society as well as society’s definitions of masculinity need to change before skirts become an acceptable alternative to trousers.” (Bolton, A., 2003)

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Although we may now know why the skirt is previously believed to be a feminine garment, there is a certain level of progression happening in the fashion industry that is trying to change this. Many contemporary designers are taking bold steps to blur the boundaries of gender specific clothes by creating ambiguity that subverts our old fashioned notions of femininity and masculinity. The designer Craig Green flirted with the concept of skirts cut to enhance the masculine figure in his spring/summer 2015 collection. Others went beyond simply redefining the skirt. Ann Demeulemeester’s menswear collections have become renowned for balancing elements of femininity and masculinity through cut, silhouette and textures.

“Those that think my clothes are androgynous also still believe that women should look like Barbie dolls. That’s precisely the problem, the deep-rooted assumptions about what is feminine. I am more inspired by the balance between men and women. A confrontation of masculine and feminine elements, even in a single silhouette is the unobvious that fascinates me.” (Demeulemeester, A.)

Fig5. Spring/Summer menswear collection (2015) by Ann Demeulemeester

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Fig6. Autumn/Winter menswear collection (2015) by Ann Demeulemeester


The same experimentation is also evident within male grooming trends in fashion. Looking at Baartman’s & Siegel Autumn/Winter 2014/2015 show, Fig., they have spent a lot of time perfecting the image of a sleek and defined looking man. They cited David Bowie as the inspiration for their look, an individual who was renowned for pushing the gender boundaries.

Fig7. Baartmans & Siegel autumn/winter styling (2015) by Toni & Guy

Fig8. David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust (1973) by Unknown photographer

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Celebrities are also contributing to the popularization of previously gender assigned clothing. David Beckham is probably one of the most notable men who has embraced this idea, being defined as a metrosexual man himself. By definition a metrosexual is “A straight urban man willing, even eager to embrace his feminine side”. Whilst maintaining a very confident, masculine image, Beckham has become an ambassador of wearing the skirt trend. In 1998 he stepped out with his wife, Victoria, wearing a sarong designed for men by Jean Paul Gaultier,

“She’s wearing the 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.” (Beckham, D., 2000) His straightforward approach of wearing whatever he likes, defies previous gender boundaries. His high profile media status has given the trend more credibility. To explore how these trends have translated into the everyday day man’s life, I focused on the work of my favourite street style photographer, Scott Schuman. His captivating photos give an insight into the subject’s style by capturing their personality and mood. Looking back at some of his past posts I came across some that appropriately focus on the topic of men in skirts, “are we ready to discuss skirt lengths for men?” (Schuman, S., 2010) As shown in Fig10. the style is sported in what would be described as a very masculine way; by combining the skirt with a menswear jacket and a cigarette it suggests a manly persona. It is just over 5 years since these images where taken, and since then more men have taken the risk and begun to incorporate the skirt into their own wardrobes, embracing the redefinition of masculinity in contemporary culture. Furthermore, recent media focus on the feminist movement may be encouraging this trend of men in skirts. The idea of feminism is to equalise the power imbalance between the genders. With the more widespread coverage of feminism in contemporary culture, more attention is being drawn to the issues we experience within fashion. Whilst the skirt may be still thought of as a feminine piece, this should not preclude men from wearing one. The assumption that it is degrading for men to appear effeminate because of what they wear needs to be dispelled. On the topic of effeminacy, a report by Francisco J.Sanchez concluded that “Ones behaviour was more important than how one looks when assessing masculinity.” (Sanchez, J., 2012) This would suggest that men styled in a more feminine manner should not have to be concerned over it altering their perceived masculinity to others.

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David Beckham was not deemed to be any less masculine for wearing a skirt, as his demeanour and personality authenticated his masculinity. In other words, what you choose to wear should not define your gender, nor should your gender define what you wear.

Fig9. David Beckham in a Sarong (1998) by Jean Paul Gaultier

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Fig10. Are We Ready To Discuss Skirt Lengths For Men? (2010) by Scott Schuman

Fig11. Are We Ready To Discuss Skirt Lengths For Men? (2010) by Scott Schuman

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Looking forward, as consumers, we are coming to accept not only the blurring of gender divisions but the concept of non-gendered fashion, clothes undefined by gender.

“Agender- Without a gender (nongendered, genderless, agender; neutrois); moving between genders or with a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid); third gender or other-gendered; includes those who do not place a name to their gender.” Agender has come to light recently due to the launch of the Selfridges Agender fashion campaign. Designer Faye Toogood has created a shopping experience that lets customer select clothes based upon simply their design, “transcending the notions of “his” and “hers””(Toogood, F., 2015). Not only has the project embarked on changing how men and women shop for fashion but they have expanded it to other areas of the arts. Director Kathryn Ferguson created a short film to express the intentions of Agender, displaying models of both genders in clothing designed for either sex. Her comment: “This film has come at a time when important conversations about gender fluidity and non-binary ways of being are finally getting a lot of attention”(Ferguson, K., 2015) , supports the concept that we are moving towards a society where the freedom to express sexuality and gender is completely accepted.

Fig12. Agender display in Selfridges (2015) Own photograph

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Conclusion Whilst researching our perceptions of gender and why the skirt has become synonymous with being a feminine garment, I have seen that society, for whatever reason, has constructed gender divisions that limit us to wearing particular styles of clothing. We have been brought up to categorise the skirt as a women’s garment ever since the early 20th century. Despite our post-modern preoccupations, we still define the skirt as a feminine piece as this belief is so deeply ingrained within our society. Whilst in my own design practice I have explored using androgyny to personify a more masculine look in my womenswear designs, I had not considered the converse. In my current project, the appeal of menswear garments had become a source of inspiration to me. This is evident in my illustrated designs, shown fig. , that demonstrate the referencing of gender specific styles. When moving forward into future menswear projects, I shall consider and apply the foundations of the designer’s work I have looked at within my research, whether it be the binary elements in Ann Demeulemeester’s designs, or the fluidity of Craig Green’s work. My exploration of these themes has confirmed to me that we should strive to break free from the notion that a skirt is feminine, or that a suit is masculine. To reach a future of gender equality we must continue to challenge our perceptions of what society has ingrained within us.

Word count: 1839

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Fig13. Menswear inspired design sketches (2015) Own work

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List of illustrations Fig1. Autumn/Winter menswear collection (2015) by Dries Van Noten, Online Fig2. Autumn/Winter menswear collection (2015) by Dries Van Noten, Online Fig3. Gary Cooper and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. (1933) by Unknown photographer, Online sourced via Pinterest Fig4. Comme des Garcons Autumn/Winter collection in Arena Homme Plus (1998) by Mike Thomas, in A. Bolton, 2003, pg. 28 Fig5. Spring/Summer menswear collection (2015) by Ann Demeulemeester Fig6. Autumn/Winter menswear collection (2015) by Ann Demeulemeester Fig7. Baartmans & Siegel autumn/winter styling (2015) by Toni & Guy, Online article Fig8. David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust (1973) by Unknown photographer, Online sourced via Rookiemag Fig9. David Beckham in a Sarong (1998) by Jean Paul Gaultier, in A. Bolton, 2003, pg. 30 Fig10. Are We Ready To Discuss Skirt Lengths For Men? (2010) by Scott Schuman, Online article Fig11. Are We Ready To Discuss Skirt Lengths For Men? (2010) by Scott Schuman, Online article Fig12. Agender display in Selfridges (2015) Own photograph Fig13. Menswear inspired design sketches (2015) Own work

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List of Citations Watson, E., 2015, online West, K., 2014, online Bolton, 2003, pg. 24, Bolton, A. (2003) Demeulemeester, A., pg.79, Palomo-Lovinski, N. (2010) Beckham, D., 2000, pg. 30, Bolton, A. (2003) Schuman, 2010, online article Sanchez, J., 2012, online article Toogood, F., 2015, online Ferguson, K., 2015, online

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Bibliography Books Bolton, A. (2003) “Men in Skirts”, V&A Publications, pg.24, 28, 30 Palomo-Lovinski, N. (2010) “The world's most influential fashion designers: hidden connections and lasting legacies of fashion's iconic creators”, A & C Black, pg. 79

Articles Online articles: Sanchez, J. (2012) “‘‘Straight-Acting Gays’’: The Relationship between Masculine Conscious ness, Anti-Effeminacy, and Negative Gay Identity” [Online] available at http://search.proquest.com/docview/931619320/fulltextPDF/B2C9C9CC5EEE4B C8PQ/1?ac countid=14693 [Accessed 1 April 2015] Schuman, S. (2010) “Are We Ready To Discuss Skirt Lengths For Men?” [Online] available at http://www.thesartorialist.com/photos/are-we-ready-to-discuss-skirt-lengths-for-men/ [Accessed 24 March 2015] Toni & Guy (2015) “Baartmans & Siegel autumn/winter styling” [Online] available at http:// www.wgsn.com.ezproxy.ntu.ac.uk/content/board_viewer/#/123282/page/1 [Accessed 8 April 2015]

Additional Sources Online: Demeulemeester, A. (2015) “Spring/Summer menswear collection” [Online] available at http://www.wgsn.com.ezproxy.ntu.ac.uk/content/search/#/Ann%2520Demeule meester%2520mens [Accessed 8 April 2015] Noten, V. D. (2015) “Autumn/Winter menswear collection” [Online] available at http://www. wgsn.com.ezproxy.ntu.ac.uk/content/search/#/dries%2520van%2520noten%2520mens [Accessed 8 April 2015] Pinterest (1933) “Gary Cooper and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.” [Online] available at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562035228470594570/ [Accessed 1 April 2015] Rookiemag (1973) “David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust” [Online] available at http://www.rook iemag.com/2012/01/how-to-look-like-david-bowie/bowiemain/ [Accessed 24 March 2015]

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Watson, E. (2015) “Full Transcript of Emma Watson’s Speech on Gender Equality at the UN” [Online] available at http://sociology.about.com/od/Current-Events-in-Sociological-Context/fl/Full-Tran script-of-Emma-Watsons-Speech-on-Gender-Equality-at-the-UN.htm [Accessed 1 April 2015] West, K. (2014) “Kanye West announces skirt line for men.” [Online] Available at: http://www.thenewsnerd.com/music/kanye-west-men-skirts/ [Accessed 1 April 2015]. Toogood, F. (2015) “Agender” [Online] Available at: http://www.selfridges.com/content/arti cle/coming-soon-agender [Accessed 5 April 2015] Ferguson, K. (2015) “Agender Film” [Online] Available at:http://www.selfridges.com/con tent/gender-film/?cm_sp=Campaign-_-AgenderLandingPage-_-TheFilm [Accessed 5 April 2015]

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