- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

NEW YORK - New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is tackling the hairy topic of why it is largely unacceptable for men to wear skirts in modern Western society.

With its new exhibit, “Bravehearts: Men in Skirts,” the museum aims to show the skirt’s unisex appeal, with a display of more than 100 variations of the garment from the private collection of the Met’s Costume Institute, along with loans from contemporary U.S. and European designers.

The exhibit pays homage to the plucky designers who took on the taboo, violating social mores and traditions in a bid to redefine the concept of masculinity in the fashion world.

In the vanguard was Jean-Paul Gaultier, who introduced his first skirt in 1984, after experimentations by American designer Rudi Gernreich and Britain’s Vivienne Westwood.

“A man does not wear his masculinity in his clothes; his virility is in his head,” Mr. Gaultier said.

Following in his footsteps were Italian design house Moschino and Belgian couturier Walter van Beirendonck, who lamented: “If only society was not so conditioned.”

Prince Charles’ use of the robust Scottish kilt raises few eyebrows.

Although David Bowie has integrated the skirt into his wardrobe, the average man on the street remains bound to the confines of centuries-old traditional male fashion.

Little by little during those hundreds of years, women’s fashion has adopted elements of the male wardrobe, starting with the hat in the 16th century, progressing to jackets in the 1700s (for hunting and horseback riding), and eventually graduating to pants — a shocking development — in the 1900s, while men were relegated to an increasingly limited array of garments.

“Today, while women enjoy most of the advantages of a man’s wardrobe, men enjoy few of the advantages of a woman’s wardrobe,” said Andrew Bolton, associate curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, where the exhibit is on display through Feb. 8.

“Nowhere is this asymmetry more apparent than in the taboo surrounding men in skirts,” he added. “For many men, its feminine connotations are too potent to overcome their fears that, by wearing a skirt, their gender identity — and, perhaps more significantly, their sexual identity — might be brought into question.”

Though common in the past, particularly in the tunics worn by men in ancient Greece and Rome, the skirt today identifies men from select areas of the world, from the Pakistani shalwar kameez to the North African caftan.

Borrowing largely from antiquity, when gladiators bared their legs and their muscles as a show of force, other designers have taken on the skirt.

They include Miguel Adrover and his shalwars, and Prada’s kimonos, as well as numerous interpretations of the traditional Scottish kilt.

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