Published: November 4, 2021
|Troye Sivan at the Met Gala|
At this year’s Met Gala, racing car driver Lewis Hamilton wore a white lace dress over a black suit and singer Troye Sivan wore a simple black gown. More recently, rapper Lil Nas X wore a purple suit with a matching train to the MTV Video Music Awards and a Cinderella-style gown at an earlier award ceremony.
The trend signifies a return to ancient sartorial norms, when more androgynous clothing was accepted and, indeed, required.
Such clothes were not “dresses” as we understand them today: the dress is a garment that has become indelibly “feminine”. But could skirts and dresses become mainstream garb for 21st century men beyond these celebrity trailblazers?
Our contemporary construct of masculinity is, of course, relatively recent. Until the early 20th century, boys and girls wore dresses until boys were “breeched” (put into breeches or “short trousers”) at around seven years old.
Pink was a manly colour, and it was almost impossible to tell boy and girl toddlers apart.
As Oscar Wilde put it when discussing women’s dress reform in the 1880s":
If the divided skirt is to be of any positive value, it must give up all idea of being identical in appearance with an ordinary skirt … [it must] … sacrifice its foolish frills and flounces.
Perhaps men’s dresses should aim for that same end: not to masquerade as anything else, but to take on a life of their own as new, separate garments.
Dresses are likely to remain a novelty for many men, a defiant show of bravery and individuality akin to the female pioneers of the rational and aesthetic dress movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Mind you, during this pandemic, there has been a surge in male skirt designs by the likes of Burberry and Stefan Cooke.
Many of these take inspiration from the traditional “man skirt”, the kilt. But longer, calf-length, pleated and A-line examples have been championed too. More men may have felt comfortable experimenting with a skirt or dress during the privacy of lockdown.
The year 2020 was a seismic shift in life as well as fashion. But given the highly gendered and ingrained nature of clothing codes, it seems unlikely we will see men’s dresses go mainstream anytime soon.