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A closer look at men in skirts

A Paolo Roversi photograph of a man in a skirt created by designer Jean-Paul Gaultier greets visitors.
A Paolo Roversi photograph of a man in a skirt created by designer Jean-Paul Gaultier greets visitors.

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NEW YORK (AP) -- This is an era of gender equality. In some households, it's the women who wear the pants. Why, then, aren't more men showing off their gams in skirts?

The problem is that in recent history there has been a feminine connotation linked to the skirt, even though men had worn them for centuries, according to Andrew Bolton, associate curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Men feel if they wear it (a skirt), their masculinity will be called into question. But if you've even seen a man in a skirt, the first thing you think of is male genitalia," he said. Roman gladiators, for example, proudly displayed their legs for all to see in short, skirted suits of armor as a sign of their virility.

Bolton organized the newest exhibit at the Costume Institute, "Bravehearts: Men in Skirts," which opened Tuesday and runs through February 8, 2004. French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who has been known to send a men's skirt or two down the runway, is the sponsor.

"Historically, men had the panache when it came to getting dressed. They had the lace, they had the makeup. They dressed exuberantly, it wasn't considered either masculine or feminine. Look at Louis XIV or the Greeks in togas," Gaultier said.

"I'm not trying to put all men in skirts. I just want to give them the freedom to wear a skirt if they want to. Women fought for years to wear trousers."

The Met was to have a gala in Gaultier's honor Monday night. He planned to wear a long, pleated black skirt with a classic white shirt, a black tie and a tuxedo jacket. "Really, it's very conservative," he said.

'Put some fun back in fashion'

This rubber ensemble, designed by Andy Wilkes, was worn at the 2003 Grammy Awards by Adrian Young, a drummer for No Doubt.
This rubber ensemble, designed by Andy Wilkes, was worn at the 2003 Grammy Awards by Adrian Young, a drummer for No Doubt.

Skirts on display in the exhibit include modern kaftans from Miguel Adrover and Roberto Cavalli; leather punk-rock outfits by Vivienne Westwood; androgynous coats and "mini-shirts" inspired by David Bowie and Mick Jagger from the 1970s; and Courtney Love's baby doll dress, worn by her late husband, Kurt Cobain, on stage in the early 1990s.

"These definitely were skirts worn to provoke a response," said Bolton with a laugh during a tour of the exhibit.

Historical pieces, such as tribal grass skirts, Greek and Hungarian folk costumes and traditional Scottish "belted plaids," large pieces of fabric slung over the shoulder and then wrapped around the waist as kilts, are featured as well.

Bolton included three skirts he ordered on the Web as part of an Internet campaign called "Men Against Trouser Tyranny," which argues that skirts are more comfortable and practical, he explained.

John Galliano's version of a papal outfit, for the Christian Dior Haute Couture collection, also is showcased. The text accompanying the glittery gold coat dress explains that ecclesiastical garments often feature skirt bottoms because they distinguish religious leaders from ordinary men, and "deny and deflect" the wearers' sexual presence.

That's basically the same argument made for the traditional christening gowns that even little 21st-century boys wear. "Children are supposed to be asexual. By wearing the same clothes, it reduces children's sexual awareness," Bolton said.

A mannequin displays a Roman military uniform designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior.
A mannequin displays a Roman military uniform designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior.

The shift in attitude toward men in skirts began as early as the 14th century, which is when men and women's clothes really began to look different, according to Bolton; the effeminate stigma really is something fairly new, developed over the last 150 years as strict dress codes and gender rules were adopted with industrialization.

The hippies of the 1960s started to erase the branding, with help from unisex outfits by Rudi Gernreich. Today's hip-hoppers, who don't exactly promote "skirts" as much as jeans with exaggerated 20-inch rises, also helped change stereotypes.

Men in pareos and sarongs, at least on the beach, also are becoming more common and accepted.

Bolton said he hopes the exhibit at least provokes questions -- if not a change in wardrobe for the average man. "Men's clothing has become so standardized that there's no fun in it anymore. Let's put some fun back in fashion."



Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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