Men in Skirts?
Naomi Jackson

When the then floppy-haired David Beckham wore a Jean-Paul Gaultier sarong, the story hit the front pages. What is it about men in skirts that provokes such a strong reaction?  A free exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, makes you wonder just this. Men in Skirts features over 60 skirts and outfits, as diverse as frock coats, kilts, sarongs and caftans.

Wandering around the exhibition it is clear that to most people a man in a skirt provides much amusement. I too admit to allowing the occasional laugh when perusing the exhibits. Why do I and many others alike find it so funny?

Today, very few men wear skirts. While it is permissible for women to wear trousers, if a man wears a skirt in public he risks ridicule. The idea of men in skirts blurs the visual distinctions between the sexes. It contradicts how men are expected to look and, more fundamentally, challenges ideal attributes of male behaviour. A man in a skirt is not only perceived as looking feminine but being feminine.

It hasnít always been like this. Look at Russell Crowe in Gladiator- a fierce roman warrior, the very epitome of manliness. Even 100 years ago Gentlemen wore full-skirted coats without scorning or condescending looks from society.

With the exception of the Scottish kilt, men are reluctant to wear skirted garments. Look at H & M. Last season the high-street store featured a whole range of skirts for men. Guess what appeared in the sale? Rails and rails of menís skirts priced at 99p. The adoption by the general male populace will ultimately depend on the re-evaluation of traditional gender conventions. Whether or not fashion designers feature skirts in their male collections will make little difference.

On this occasion the voice of fashion will be ignored. I am sure it will be a long time before men wander skirted around the streets of York.