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Men's Skirts. (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 opens Tuesday and runs through Feb. 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," Mr.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 Mr.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. 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. 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 also helped change stereotypes. Men in pareros 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. "I'm tired of this question of questioning a man's motives because he wants to wear a skirt, and panty-hose. In the early days of women wearing pants, was there ever a question if they got a thrill out of trying to be a man? We have our own individual reasons for wanting to do what we do. It really doesn't matter what they are. Just do it if you enjoy it. You're not hurting anyone and it's not illegal, .By Charlie Porter
They're breezy, they're sexy and they're easy to wear. So why, asks an exhibition in New York, don't men wear skirts? Imagine the next man you see wearing a skirt. Not a kilt, sarong or kaften but a pencil skirt to just above the knee. Everything else he is wearing will be from his regular wardrobe, maybe a sweatshirt and some bashed-up trainers, or a shirt, tie and brogues. It doesn't work, does it?
If the man you're imagining in a skirt is your partner, you might think he'll look sweet, that the skirt will show off his best features. In the privacy of your bedroom, you could possibly persuade him to put one on for you. But don't ask him to then go and buy a litre of milk from the corner shop, fabric flapping about his legs. However radical you think yourself, whatever open-minded stances you take on sexuality and no-nconformism, you would more than likely laugh at him or, worse, feel ashamed. It is a curious by-product of the last century that while the Western world grew more liberal with each decade, men's clothes became more restricted in silhouette. We may think that jeans and T-shirts are modern and progressive but they are just versions of age-old work clothes and undergarments in technically advanced fabrics before 1900, European men wore skirted garments regularly. Around the world today, a huge number of men from different cultures wear clothes on their lower half that are not divided into two branches. At many of the major fashion houses, skirts for men turn up on the catwalk season after season. Yet off the catwalk, if it's not split it's an object of derision, An exhibition on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, Bravehearts: Men In Skirts, looks at these clothes, both from the past and the present, some of which are incredibly beautiful and amazingly realized. The show - which is not at all about drag but, rather, about skirts in a masculine context - will probably be hard-pushed to convince men to wear them. Indeed, the exhibition may well tell us more about why men don't wear skirts than why they do. It may also reveal why we think men's wear is stuck in a rut and whether it is likely to escape it.
"If a man does wear a skirt, you're very much aware of him as a sexual presence," says Andrew Bolton, the joint Victoria and Albert/London College of Fashion research fellow and curator of the exhibition, which began at the V&A in 2002. "But the recent tradition of men's dress is to be as invisible as possible. It's about blending in and being anonymous, rather than standing out."
Men clearly don't want to be thought of as a sexual presence in the specific, blatant way a skirt projects. If a skirted garment is worn, there has to be some reason behind it - the kilt as a defiant symbol of Scottish national pride, the sarong as a fantasy garment to project an image of a life lived in luxury. Most men who wear such clothes will think about their meaning before putting them on, something they would never do with their regular office-bound trouser suit or weekend pair of khakis. In day-to-day life, the skirt is just not an option.
There must be deep-seated reasons for this, since Bolton says that the few men who do wear skirts consider them to be the natural choice. "A lot of men talk about how comfortable they are, how breezy they are," he says. "They talk about how masculine they feel when they wear a skirt. They're very much aware of their bodies, how they walk and how they sit. And it's in summer that skirts make the most obvious sense."
Bolton started to research the subject after he saw a man on the London Underground in a conservative, pin-striped skirted suit. "I was amazed by the variety of people's responses," he remembers, "which varied from laughter to actual verbal abuse - one man shouted, 'You queer bugger', as he left the Tube, which I thought was a bit odd, because the man wearing the skirt was kissing his girlfriend at the time."
According to Bolton, between the 17th and the late-19th century, "skirt" was a masculine word, the male version of "petticoat". "Skirt" referred to the lower portion of a man's coat, which, at various stages, fluctuated in width, sometimes billowing and dress-like, at others hanging straight from the waist.
However, as Bolton concedes, the contemporary skirt is in a "no way forward situation". After all, it can't just be a case of swapping trousers for skirts, since doing so shifts the entire emphasis of a man's style. What would men wear skirts with? Would they try to make their legs more attractive? Would they get paranoid about their knees? What underwear would best retain their modesty?
Rather than anguishing over the failure of men to grasp the various possibilities available to them clothes-wise, the reasons why they stick with what they know are much more revealing. "The show is questioning why there are so few forms acceptable for men's wardrobes, while with women's it seems endless," says Bolton.
Indeed, in 2002 the catwalks provided a classic example of just this difference. For the first time Junya Watanabe, famed for his body-morphing women's wear, designed a collection for men. Instead of pushing the boundaries of shape and structure as he has done with women, he sent out a series of beautifully cut jeans and tops that didn't deviate from the silhouette of our perceived norm.
Watanabe explained the modern trouser is one of the most perfect examples of accomplished design and so he was interested only in creating the best version possible. In other words, he wasn't interested in designing a skirt for men and therefore attempting to shift the male into a new social context.
By following this train of thought, men are let off the hook - they don't have to consider wearing skirts, because the traditional male outfit still fascinates the designers who try to master it.
From this viewpoint, men's wear is not stuck in a rut, it is just obsessed with entirely separate intricacies of design necessitated by the difference in body shape between men and women. It means that rather than merge and adopt the sensibilities of the opposite sex, good men's wear doesn't need to have anything to do with the precocious flair and glamour of women's wear. So, although men's wear designers will include kilts, sarongs or skirts in their catwalk designs to gain extra coverage, for the foreseeable future the core of their business will not be switching from trouser to skirt suits.