Your teenage son comes to you wanting to wear a skirt. You momentarily panic, an understandable reaction from someone who wants to raise their son in godliness and also preemptively shield him from ridicule. After all, you were only mildly horrified when he painted his nails midnight blue, which you reasoned was a “manly” color and remembered many of your favorite musicians went through a makeup and nail polish stage. But a skirt? Sure, you admired Kanye’s Givenchy leather number which tellingly was referred to as a kilt. You would also be supportive if, ten years down the line, he and his groomsmen chose to wear kilts at his wedding to celebrate his 1/14 of Scottish heritage. But not now. “No!” you yell. “You can’t wear a skirt! They’re for girls and besides biblical manhood and the bible and no, okay?”
With the recent renaissance and accessibility of men’s fashion, we could continue to face more and more of these dilemmas. This year’s London Fashion Week showed designers sending male models down the runway in tube tops, ruffled shorts, and shift dresses. While there was pushback from even within the normally very progressive fashion community, it nonetheless shows that there is a movement afoot. With an artist as popular as Kanye West wearing a skirt (excuse me — kilt) and men’s fashion plunging headfirst into women’s clothing styles, this seems to be more than a trend. Women have already undergone their own gender specific fashion revolution: just 50 years ago, our country was still wrestling with the idea of women wearing pants. This cultural phenomenon started with a few trailblazing women wearing pants underneath their skirts, spread out of necessity to female factory workers during World War 1 and 2, was then adopted by fashion-forward celebrities, and finally won broad acceptance during the second wave feminist movement. Now the notion of women in pants somehow being wrong or vulgar seems antiquated. In fact, women are mostly free to wear whatever men’s clothing they please: jeans, blazers, brogues, trousers, fedoras. Additionally, the past few years have ushered in a trend where women wear clothing intentionally large to lend a borrowed-from-the-boys look. Clearly, society’s approval of women in either gender’s clothing has not yet been extended to men. Are men in skirts this generation’s women in pants?
As Christians, it can be easy to blur the line between what’s biblical and what’s culturally acceptable. We have to be able to cut through the fog of our prejudices to make difficult decisions in moral gray areas. There is no biblical significance to men wearing a piece of fabric wrapped around their body (a skirt) as opposed to a piece of fabric wrapped around each leg (pants). There is only cultural significance. Our culture has simply stated, in no uncertain terms, that men wearing skirts is weird. We have to guard against building biblical manhood and womanhood with the bricks that our culture hands us.
I don’t believe there are any easy, clear cut answers to the question of androgyny. (Note that I am not referring to transgendered people, but rather men and women who wish to adopt clothing styles that are typically worn by the other gender.) As Christians, we know that men and women have God-given differences – does that difference extend to the way we dress? I would argue, yes. But that doesn’t mean that a man can’t wear a skirt or a woman can’t wear an oversized blazer.