Who Wears the Pants? Cross-Dressing in Style

Hollywood hunks Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell, stars of the loosely historical films Troy and Alexander, respectively, share a unique ability: They both pull off skirts while maintaining their masculinity. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that each successive battle scene is juxtaposed with a superfluous sex scene, underscoring the be-skirted warrior’s masculinity.

The skirt had quite a run, in movies and history, from the era of the actual Alexander the Great in B.C. Babylonia, to the age of Moses. In The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston still looked ripped as he donned a vaguely Parisian, peasant-like skirt. Slightly more contemporary civilizations, such as the Scottish depicted by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, found kilts liberating for riding and battle. Fat Bastard and Sean Connery have sported the frock, leading to the general consensus that only the Scots can pull it off.

The bifurcated pant was not associated with masculinity until the evolution of tailoring in the 14th century. Men’s tunics became tighter and shorter in the 15th century and fashionable men began to wear stockings. Breeches were all the rage in the 16th century. Men’s skirted garments’ last hurrah came during the Victorian era in the form of the frock-coat. The advent of the practical, boxy shape of the trousers-and-jacket combination transformed such highly wrought coats from everyday wear to ridiculous costume. And as Western styles have become more liberal with each successive decade, men’s clothes have become more constrained in silhouette.

The re-introduction of the man skirt came about in the mid-60s when several designers attempted to incorporate the piece into the wardrobes of counter-cultural men. Some groups caught on. For example, kilts became an essential piece to the punk uniform, as rockers such as the late Kurt Cobain had been spotted donning them. Later, skirts symbolized the sexual ambiguity of the New Romantics—the Bowie-inspired anti-punk glam movement that emerged on the club scene of the early 80s.

In the 90s, man-skirts appeared to progress towards mainstream acceptance at the hands of football player and sarong enthusiast David Beckham and designer Jean Paul Gaultier, beginning an almost comical trend in Britain. Gaultier’s interpretation of the skirt was not intended to feminize men, but to project defiance in their choice of garb.

At a press conference for Troy, Brad Pitt predicted that, “Men will be wearing skirts by next summer.” While it may not have come true, some designers are still hoping. This spring, Vivienne Westwood showed male skirts on Paris’s runways. Her pieces reflect the feminine Gaultier-like approach idea. Far from the skirts-cum-armor of antiquity, this time around skirts are soft, upholding masculinity for the person man enough to wear them.

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