with drawstring waist. This design is suitable for most
fabrics. Summer-thin cotton to designer fabrics
by Maris Lemieux
It may well be a cold day in hell before the Manhattan marchers go to their
local department store and find the article of clothing so near and dear to
their hearts, the male skirt. Still, on the last day of the "Bravehearts"
exhibit, they marched to show their free-the-legs solidarity.
Sponsored by Jean Paul Gaultier, the Met's exhibit/fashion display included
creative designs -- historical and contemporary, new and not-so-new -- featuring
male skirt fashion ideas contributed by leading edge designers like Armani,
Hilfiger, Kenzo, Comme des Garcon, and Utilikilts.
Designers Rudi Gernreich and Walter van Beirendonck claim that as the
industrialized world progresses towards a utopian future, the skirt will
naturally evolve as the dominant male fashion. The world will be a kinder place.
Men will have the luxury of flirting with vulnerability, the very thing offered
by a skirt. Other designers simply feel the male skirt suggests a raw,
uninhibited masculinity -- not at all feminine or vulnerable.
In addition to a wide variety of kilts, the exhibit included the Chinese robe,
the Japanese kimono, the Indian lungi and jama, the South Asian sarong, and the
Middle Eastern and North African caftan or djellaba -- every country, it seems,
has some tradition of male skirts but America. In America, only the rebellious,
alternative music scene has taken up the slack: Towards the end of the exhibit
was a skirt on display worn in concert by Adrian Young of the band No Doubt.
At temperatures close to zero degrees, the men on the march, wearing all manner
of short, long and in-between skirts, heartily braved the elements calling it a
"protest" for skirted freedom. "We don't want you to call us Jean
or Sally," David Johnson told the New York Times, "We're men. Men who
want the right to wear a skirt." (Did they sing the "Men, men, men,
men" anthem as they marched?)
Though Johnson himself had only traveled from upstate New York to participate,
some of the skirted men came from as far away as Sweeden to take part and to
mention that from a European perspective, trousered men are a relatively new
phenomenon. In a sort of Darwinian line of reason, another marcher pointed out
that it is always the male bird who has the flamboyant colors.
Both arguments have a point. All the grousing in the news these days about
female pop singers and their risqué fashions, from "skirts too short"
to "outfits too revealing," were the very complaints lodged against
fashionable young men in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In England, in the late 1400s, Edward IV had a hard time -- perhaps
"hard" is a poor choice -- with men wearing short skirts. Actually it
was called a doublet, a tight-fitting jacket which turned into a skirt at the
waist. All a man wore with that was a pair of hose (actually two separate leg
pieces that would be tied together). The public lodged endless complaints of
indecency against these short doublets. "Today's young men," went the
grumblings, "their doublets are getting shorter and shorter all the time.
Any decent government would put an end to it." (Sound familiar?)
Like Janet Jackson's sidereal nipple, the young men's exposure (oh, yes, the
most egregious skirts did reveal the family jewels) eventually heated up
Edward's legislative sessions. Edward began to write laws over the problem: No
one lower than a Lord in rank shall wear a doublet so short you can see his
private parts. The law was virtually ignored. At court the young courtiers
continued to compete, like up-and-coming starlets at the Oscars, to have the
most florid, eye-catching, risqué doublets. According to one theory, it was
this strong public outcry that led to the invention of the codpiece.
The codpiece began as a flap that covered the male jewels, hardly more
substantial than Jackson's nipple star, except that the cod piece grew rather
quickly in both popularity and size. Within fifty years, during the reign of
Henry VIII (the guy with all the wives), the codpiece had become an elaborate
cup at the crotch, often used as a pocket, or incredibly padded on the inside
while garishly ornamented on the outside. At the height of the codpiece fashion
trend, the codpiece became so exaggerated an appendage, that a hall full of
courtiers might look like a convention of elephants, with ample trunks. It has
been suggested that Henry, with his potency issues, practiced and therefore
encouraged codpiece excesses. On the other hand, the power to enlarge one's
penile first impression must have been irresistible. And it is possible that the
elephantine cod piece was simply a case of boys being boys.
It's odd that in our good old days, so many of the fashion trends we now
associate with women's sex appeal (and even women's vanity), were actually in
the domain of men's fashion. In those days, men did give the colorful male bird
a run for his money. They were the ones who wore the fancy plumes in their hats,
the perfumes, the fat jeweled rings, the ruffs at sleeves and collars, the silk
ribbons -- to tie their shoes, to tie their various garments together (sleeves,
for example, were not attached to doublets; they were tied together with eye
holes), to tie on their codpiece. Men wore the hose in the house, and garters to
hold up the hose, and garter-like straps to attach the hose to their slops
(those puffy, short balloon pants you see on Henry VIII in his photos). Today,
women wear padded bras; back then, men wore padded bellies. They called it the
"bombast," and it gave men an odd, hang-belly look they considered
appealing. Men's clothes were ornamented with jewels. It would not be out of the
ordinary to see tiny rubies, diamonds, garnets, glittering across the gown,
doublet, or cod piece of a nobleman.
Oh, for those good old days. Of course such outfits were not easy to get into
and once you got into them, you had to worry about their losing shape, losing
ornaments, coming undone -- they wilted easily. This issue is not unlike the
tribulations of young ladies at Oscar night, dressed in designer gowns that are
taped in place, so that every bit of revealed skin is choreographed to look
But how difficult is a simple skirt or kilt? A skirt is incredibly easier than
pants to don and doff. It's wildly convenient for quick relief in the bathroom.
And for the aggressive lady, well, men in skirts could add a whole new dimension
to roving hands.
Yet, it has been over a month since the end of the "Bravehearts"
exhibit and, curiously, the men of America are not rushing off to get skirted
up. Neiman Marcus hasn't introduced its new line of male skirt power suits.
Wallmart hasn't brought men's skirts to the heartland. Are we missing something?