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Men Without Pants

Illustration by Natalya Ugodnikova

Metrosexuals, schmetrosexuals. Sure, plenty of fellows regularly tap into the feminine mystique with pedis, manis, facials and more — and they’re looking all the sexier for it — but these things are just so, how shall we put it, cosmetic. Instead of simply curving gender, more guys should fully bend it, à la David Beckham, who often boldly wears sarongs instead of pants. But the fact is, most men — straight and gay — consider skirts taboo. At least Western men. In many parts of the world, real men wear caftans or djellabas or sarongs.

While a number of celebrities have been known to occasionally sport a skirt (Sting at this year’s Oscars) or don a dress (David Bowie throughout his career, and Kurt Cobain too), there’s almost always a sense of performance and costume informing their ensembles. We need to get regular guys out of their pants and into skirts. After all, no one called Julius Caesar a sissy when he hiked up his toga, hopped into his chariot and expanded the empire. Or dared challenge a tunic-clad Henry VIII’s skills as a, er, ladykiller (plus that heavy pleating helped hide his rather ponderous girth).

It wasn’t until the 19th century that full-length trousers became popular. In ancient times men wore all manner of robes and skirts — and don’t forget the ooh-la-la loincloths of the Egyptians. Puffy hose — often with prominent codpieces (the equivalent of today’s Wonderbras!) — that stopped mid-thigh, topped by doublets and capes, started coming into fashion in the 16th century. From there, menswear gradually evolved into wide-legged breeches and then tight-fitting knee-length breeches, often worn with elaborate frock coats. For centuries, dapper dudes and peasants alike showed a whole lot of leg and sometimes even a bit of garter.

And it wasn’t just for looks. The loose folds of a dress or skirt make more sense for a man, anatomically speaking, than binding trousers. And they’re marvelous for disguising less-than-perfect bodies — an empire waist conceals that unsightly beer gut. And what better for a sweltering summer day then an airy cotton frock. In comparison, pants just aren’t all that comfortable.

Given the cyclical nature of fashion trends, the skirt as male garment is long overdue for a comeback. Yet it’s left to the most adventurous designers to bring up the issue. And unsuccessfully at that. Jean-Paul Gaultier, who sponsored the recent “Bravehearts: Men in Skirts” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tried in the early ’80s to give guys very manly suits that happened to incorporate skirts instead of trousers. It didn’t catch on. Jacques Esterel hadn’t fared much better in 1970 with his maxi-length dress for men. Vivienne Westwood managed to get non-Scottish laddies into kilts during punk’s heyday, but only over black denim or bondage pants. Yohji Yamamoto built his spring/summer 2004 menswear collection around skirts — think The Last Samurai and the traditional hakama — but it’s a safe bet you won’t be seeing many be-skirted urban warriors descending from their Hummers.

Men, aren’t you outraged by the lack of choice? Women wear trousers and aren’t thought to be any the less feminine. How can we be equal when we still care so much about who wears the pants in the family?

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