The New Androgyny

The New Androgyny January 15, 2013

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.

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  • Interesting thoughts. The one thing that pops into my head about this topic is the question of whether our modern ideas of gender are able (or even should be able) to change over time. I’m not willing to say that ladies in pants are a bad thing, or anything like that, but how much shifting is acceptable? Is shifting acceptable at all?

    Also, Lauren, what would you define as being “Biblical Gender Mandates” and what are “Culture Gender mandates”? Thanks!

  • I am a man who wears skirts, or clothing western society deems women’s clothing and proud of it. I have my wife’s full support and we both wear skirts all over the place in public and at home. Dentist, Opticians, theatres, pubs, restaurants, shopping etc.

    Based in Northern England, I have been to Scotland as well as the South of England and Europe. I get the occasional look of surprise and the extremely rare comment behind my back but on the whole well received and many compliments. Check out my site, I have some photos on as well as thoughts to consider.

    I’m all for equality, gender balance in all aspects of human life. Neither one is better than the other and each one compliments the other. I believe the world would be far mare harmonious with a tempered testosterone with more logic and common sense approach. Being in skirts makes you no less a person for either sex. It is you the person that makes you who you are and the world we live in.

    I hear regular statements as to what is expected of men according to the Bible. The bible is a book written by humans 400 years after the event! The bible also states expectations for women, are those observed? Look at portraits of clothing of that era when the bible was written.

  • Jeff Cavanaugh

    “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.”

    So, what *does* it mean, positively? It seems to me that clothes and their significance are almost entirely culturally defined. I somewhat agree with the principle of not building your concept of biblical masculinity/femininity with cultural bricks, but I just don’t see how you avoid it when it comes to clothes. The Bible, where it addresses apparel, does so in inescapably culturally-oriented terms. Corinthian ladies, for example, were supposed to cover their heads because in their culture it signified submission to authority. There’s a biblical principle (submission) being expressed in cultural language (headcoverings).

    I think we have an obligation to make sure our conception of masculinity and femininity is rooted solidly in biblical principles, but the way we express and embody those principles has to be done in the language of our culture. It’s a pretty important biblical principle that men are men and not women (and vice versa) and it seems to me that avoiding distinctly unmasculine clothing is a clear way to show our submission to that principle. Our culture knows that a plaid skirt on a dude carrying bagpipes isn’t feminine dress, but in just about any other context it raises eyebrows because skirts are still womenswear in the West. That could change, which is maybe where you were going with this article, but I’m uncomfortable with deliberately androgynous fashion.

  • Christopher,
    Thanks for your comment. Although I am certainly no expert on gender, I think the briefest look at women over the past 60 years shows that our culture’s ideas about women can shift, sometimes quite rapidly. A century ago we couldn’t vote because society deemed us incapable. I think shifting is good and bad; we’ll lose old prejudices and adopt new ones.

    I was hoping you’d weigh in. You have a great point. Clothing is expressed culturally but culture can change. And Christians can join in changing it, within our biblical mandates. Why can’t a skirt be masculine? While you may not be enamored by Kanye’s style in the above photo, it is distinctly masculine.

  • Thanks for this article, Lauren. As a guy who wears kilts and skirts at home, I’m trying to see how the clothing one wears creates a problem with their Christian faith. Not finding it. Clothes are clothes, period. Full Stop. What difference does it make if what you are wearing on the lower half of your body has one leg hole or two? Doesn’t Jesus teach us to recognize and do away with double-standards and bigotry (“Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.”) If women can wear trousers, even blue jeans, and not be thought of as any less of a woman, then why can’t men wear skirts? This is a question that can have only one logical, single-standard answer. If one must rely strictly on clothing to differentiate a man from a woman then there is a lot more going on to create that uncertainty than a single piece of clothing. TKH

  • Jeff Cavanaugh

    Lauren, you’re right, a skirt/kilt certainly can be masculine. These guys certainly take it in a manly direction: Kanye’s outfit, especially with the trousers underneath, strikes me as more of a take on a Middle Eastern tunic than anything we’d call a skirt, and if so it’s less of an androgynous take on Western clothing than an homage to cultures where non-trousers are normal on men.

    Fashion is a language, and when we choose our clothes we’re always saying something about ourselves – who we are, who we want to be, how we understand our place in the world. The more unusual the fashion choice, the louder and more deliberate that statement is. So, if the question is whether it’s OK for a guy to wear an unbifurcated garment, I’d want to follow up and ask what he’s trying to say. If he’s saying “I’m proud of my Scottish heritage,” no biggie. If he’s saying, “This is the most logical choice for my anatomy,” well, that’s an amusingly utilitarian approach, but OK. If he’s saying “I’m proving I’m such a manly man I don’t have to be afraid of people making fun of my skirt,” well, that seems a little juvenile, but whatever. If the statement is “I reject your oppressive, hidebound, patriarchalist assumptions about gender and sexuality and what it means to be male,” that’s when I’d want to put the brakes on. That latter statement seems to be the spirit behind a lot of androgyny in fashion, and I think that’s where Christians who want to take our framework of masculinity (and femininity) from the Bible need to be careful.

  • Kelly

    Every autumn when the fashion world starts drooling over “menswear-inspired” outfits for women, they usually mean little tweed vests and fedoras, maybe a button-up shirt with a skinny black tie. Clothes that rarely resemble things most men actually wear. Girls wear these outfits because they think it’s cute and stylish, not because they want to actually look like men or desire to rebel against traditional gender roles. So I think that Jeff’s point about the motivation behind one’s fashion choices is a good one.

  • From Jeff:

    “If the statement is “I reject your oppressive, hidebound, patriarchalist assumptions about gender and sexuality and what it means to be male,” that’s when I’d want to put the brakes on. That latter statement seems to be the spirit behind a lot of androgyny in fashion, and I think that’s where Christians who want to take our framework of masculinity (and femininity) from the Bible need to be careful.”

    Yep, totally agree. I think we’re both on the same page here (though maybe you’re a bit more cautious than I).

  • @Jeff “If he’s saying, “This is the most logical choice for my anatomy,” well, that’s an amusingly utilitarian approach, but OK.” Although this statement is quite condescending in attitude towards someone who is making their own choice of attire, it sounds like you have given at least a tepid approval to men who choose to wear un-bifurcated garments, yes?

    Look, it’s really like this: As Thomas Jefferson stated “If it does not pick my pocket or break my leg, then what difference does it make to me.” Or as Sigmund Freud once stated: “Sometimes a cigar is simply a cigar.”

    How about this one: Maybe a guy just simply wants to wear a skirt or kilt (which is a different style of skirt) because it’s comfortable and he likes it? What is this a big deal?

    The problem is that when a guy chooses to “color outside the lines” he is often abandoned by family and friends. When a girl chooses to do the same thing, she ALWAYS finds an advocate who is willing, on her behalf, to hurl charges of oppression, insensitivity and sexism at anyone who dares to speak out against it, whatever the “it” happens to be.

    Please, anyone, give me one good, valid, logical reason why a guy should not wear a skirt. TKH

  • “Wear that skirt as a symbol of your support to a woman’s right to wear what she wants, be who she is, exercise her rights, and be safe in her city. Nothing shows more solidarity with women than breaking barriers and boundaries of ‘his and hers’.

    Read more:

    Found this article and quote quite interesting. That same quote should also be used for guys who choose to think for themselves regarding their attire. TKH

  • The Kilted Hoosier: Great comments

  • JohnN

    Indeed hesitance is there when a man puts on a skirt, a garment which was by origin mens atiire. Biblical morality came to us via psychiatrists as Binet and Jung who became more religious later on. Duet 22:5 became a psychological norm. Main question is why is such only for men and not for women? Is that thye argument of feeling discriminated if one is not allowed to express himself? Or have women been dominating life always?

  • Mara

    One of the best articles about men’s skirts i could read recently. I remember an article written 1985 after J.P. Gaultier made men’s skirts public in Paris with the headline: “Are we shifting into a new androgyny when we put men in skirts?” To make a long story short, there was not a clear answer but a clear statement: Androgyny is not in any of the clothes, it is in the body. What we are doing is nothing else than mixing up two things which are not related at all.
    My personal opinion at the main question about men in skirt’s is that skirted garments the most comfortable garment for men’s bodies. And we know also, the most healthiest, too. Thinking about the history we’ll find, that pants always were a garment for work and for soldiers because the skirt was too fragile and sometimes not practical using it for hard work.
    In case biblical concerns: At that time nobody wore pants, the difference between women’s and men’s clothes was the type of style (women only wore long dresses), fabric, color/pattern and length (men wore always shorter skirted garments than women).
    Putting all that in one line with the question if it is capable for men wearing skirts (again) would be a clear YES. The only thing what stands in the way of this new way of dressing is our brain and very often our prejudices. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a man in skirt, only a very new view and many more possibilities to show up with new way of expression their own personality.