THE MAN AND THE SKIRT

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Words: Petsy von Köhler

- AN INTRODUCTION TO MEN’S FASHION SPRING/SUMMER 2012

GIVENCHY S/S 2012

Photo: Filippo Fior for Style.com

This spring, renowned fashion houses such as Givenchy present men’s skirt in their collections. Skirt for men are hardly a new phenomenon in fashion or in costume history, but why is it that it doesn’t seem to attach to the modern day Western civilization?

All throughout the history of human kind men have worn skirts, it was in fact originally a garment made for men. The Roman army fashioned armoured skirts which at the time where much utilisable and permitted more freedom of movement than robes. Greek and ancient Hebrew men were also well-documented skirt bearers with their togas and sarong-like wrap-skirts, as well were the Sumerians. In the end of the Middle Ages however, things began to change in the Western society.

In his essay “Men in skirts”, author and modern literature professor Steven Connor claims that the systematic differentiation between men’s and women’s clothing reached it’s crescendo during the industrial revolution in the 1850s with the rise of bifurcated menswear. It was at that very time, when the dress of the male split into two below the waist, that women’s wear and men’s wear also split into two categories more than ever.

Canadian industrial designer and model Jay Dezelic runs the label J’Dez, which aims to broaden the male fashion horizon with skirts and dresses made for men. According to Jay, the trousers were created for industrial labour purposes.

– Pants were largely a product of the industrial age. They provided better protection from the environment and the harsh conditions of factories, construction sites and modern battlefields. Inadvertently, pants became a symbol of Western industrialisation, strength and masculinity. But, it must be remembered that men wore skirts for most of the last five thousand years through the development of human society. All the great ancient wonders of the world from the Great Wall of China to the Pyramids in Egypt were constructed by men wearing skirts.

During the swinging 60’s, the gender coded-clothing for man and women was heavily challenged by young people, which led to women wearing pants as a sign of opposition, while the men were content with carefully experimenting with colours, fabrics and details, which explains the frilled purple velvet-bell bottom trousers. The hippie aesthetics was afterwards translated into the disco era by music groups such as The Bee Gees and Abba.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the mid 80s when Jean Paul Gaultier featured men’s skirts in one of his collections that it was summoned to life once more. The skirt caused quite a stir far beyond the fashion community. However, 30 years later, the skirt is about as much taboo as it was back then, Jay Dezelic believes that only a sudden large demand from the male-dominated part of the clothing market could increase the presence of the skirt out in the street.

COMMES DES GARÇONS S/S 2012

Photo: Yannis Vlamos for GoRunway.com

– It is good that designers “test the waters” now and again with mens skirt designs as they have since the 1960′s.  However, the bottom line for the major fashion houses is always whether or not the mainstream market will buy the concept.  So much of the clothing industry has been taken over by large scale producers limiting the range of style categories that can be profitably marketed to men. For men’s skirts to come into mainstream fashion, somehow a very large number of guys would have to instantly want to wear skirts for things to change.  As Western society continues to become more homogenous with standardized manufacturing, it is not likely that men will be influenced to wear skirts in any large numbers, Dezelic says.

Gaultier’s skirt-revolution launched a revival-tradition among the fashion houses: every now and then, very often synchronised between the brands, male skirts are featured in the different collections. In 2009, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, Gaultier & Comme des Garçons presented men’s skirts in their spring collections, and fast-fashion giant H&M featured a black flared version in theirs. For this spring and summer, Givenchy, Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons are leading the way.

But despite all the efforts from the fashion community, the skirt just doesn’t seem to be able to penetrate the Average Joe’s wardrobe. In countries such as India and Sri Lanka, the lungi and sarong-skirt are a natural part of the everyday life, and in other countries in South-East Asia and the Middle East. But the Western civilisation seems to actively refuse to adopt it as a wardrobe complement.

– It is just a matter of cultural differences. The Eastern world has held on to tradition while the Western world has experienced a long period of constant industrial progression. If there were not social boundaries, I think there is no doubt that most men would wear skirts on certain occasions just simply because they are more comfortable than pants. Skirts are a comfortable and fashionable clothing choice that all people should have the ability to wear, Dezelic states.

Moreover, he points out the idea of women as the weaker sex as a contributing factor to why many shun garments that can evoke the idea of femininity.

– Generally, I think that many men are afraid to challenge society expectations for fear that people may think they are trying to be like women. For many men it seems, there is extreme fear of anything that can be thought of as feminine.  I think this is due to the broad misconception that feminine attributes are always a sign of weakness rather than strength. The reliance on clothing as a symbol of strength is a shallow concept because it’s just fabric.

A man that has had a tendency to be at the vanguard of fashion is rapper Kanye West who last year wore a blouse from Céline’s spring 2011 women’s collection, and a few months back, he sported a leather skirt from Givenchy’s fall collection for 2011. But he’s hardly the first, already back in the mid 90’s, footballer David Beckham were caught on camera walking around in a Gaultier sarong hand in hand with lady Beckham. American designer Marc Jacobs is another man frequently pushing the envelope in fashion circles with a variety of skirts, and a while back, even a pink piqué dress.

Perhaps that’s what it takes, that male role models in different fields such as sports, music and fashion represents a different ideal?

– I don’t know if it will be five years or five hundred years, but I think eventually mens skirt’s will come into mainstream fashion again. Fashion trends are like earthquakes. Major changes can sometimes happen almost instantly, you just don’t know when, Dezelic concludes.

YOHJI YAMAMOTO S/S 2012

Photo: Monica Feudi for Style.com


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