Words do not adequately describe the comfort of a skirt in the sweltering summer months. While comfort is an enormous justification for donning a business-acceptable skirt, it is not its only benefit nor the only reason, as I have pointed out in other posts.
The actual number of men worldwide who wear skirt-like garments is unknowable, but a reasonable estimate would be between 500 million and 1 billion, which, out of a world population of 4 billion men, is a rather significant percentage. Their garments are known by many names across the globe: kilt, gho, fustanella, hakama, sarong, dhoti/veshti/lungi, longyi, kanga/kilenge/kikoy/tappa, lavalava, baana/chola, ihram, futah, sulu vakataga, qun/chang, qumbaz, and thobe.
It is worth noting that, next to the loincloth, non-bifurcated garnents are the second oldest articles of clothing. But the bifurcated pant is also fairly ancient as shown by native Amerindian peoples. Some anthropologists have suggested that bifurcation is attributable to textile technology. Under this theory, textile cultures adopted non-bifurcated garments while animal hide cultures adopted what we know call pants. For purposes of this blog post, I will use “skirt” to refer to all non-bifurcated garments regardless of gender much in the same way that “pants” refers to bifurcated garments worn by both males and females.
This post is aimed at providing curious and novice American men with the advantage of practical advice and a basic education on how to start wearing skirts. While I strive to be practical and balanced, I do advance a viewpoint of masculine aesthetics for several reasons: first, it is my personal stylistic preference; second, I believe this to be the most natural tract for men making their first forays into this counterculture movement; third, I believe this to be of greater service to the movement (as explained in closing). To make it easier to digest, I have divided this post into four sections: Key Concepts, Masculinity & Femininity, Wearing a Skirt, Shopping for Skirts, and Closing Remarks.
Wearing a skirt does not signal that a man is homosexual, heterosexual, or transvestite (see this other post on sex and gender), but wearing a skirt absolutely does demonstrate that the man is highly self-confident and willing to defy social norms.
Though American culture evolved to embrace rigidly gender-normalizing expectations of masculinity and femininity, America has been slowly expanding its understanding over the last century. At one time women were not allowed to vote or to drive cars. Later on, the women’s liberation movement asserted (successfully, I might add) that women had as much right as men to wear pants in the workplace. Following the latest turn of the century, states and municipalities began to recognize that some people do not fit the strict male/female paradigm. In 2018, America has focused on inappropriate conduct toward women. While this progression has made women more equal with men, the next phase will necessarily seek to make men more equal with women. I believe that the final enlightenment will also see the appearance of adult unisex clothing that will erase gender barriers and make all sexes even more equal. Until then, those of us willing to defy social norms are the pioneers of equality and progress (as well as its early beneficiaries).
It is difficult to say exactly why skirts are perceived strictly as a woman’s garment. This is to say, are skirts perceived as feminine because women wear them or do women wear them because skirts are perceived as feminine? At present, commercially-available skirts are marketed, patterned, and tailored for women’s bodies. Skirts could absolutely be tailored and marketed for a man’s aesthetic and body, but if free-market commerce does not support production, there is no economic incentive for manufacturers to bring them to the marketplace for male consumers.
Since all skirts are presently designed for women’s bodies it is not truly possible to speak of their skirts as being “masculine” but there are ways to exploit certain design elements in ways that cause the skirt to take on masculine properties. Through purposeful styling, a man can communicate a stronger message that overcomes social misperceptions. In order to do this it is first necessary to establish a baseline understanding of three core terms.
Cut. The skirt’s cut refers to how the skirt appears when worn. Cuts fall along a wide perceptual spectrum. Cuts that flow, waft, and flounce will emphasize femininity while cuts that are are straighter, stiffer, and closer to the body will downplay femininity. Another consideration of cut has to do with length. A miniskirt technically falls anywhere above the knee while full, midi, and maxi skirts range from knee- to ankle-length. (For obvious reasons of anatomy, no discussion of the micromini is necessary.)
Fabric. The two main components to know are fiber and weave. Cotton or cotton-polyester blends will be perceived more androgynously. Synthetic fibers are prone to static cling and might be too thin for a man’s needs. Weave can get very technical for those in the textile industry, so for our purposes, weave will simply refer to the structure and density of the fabric. Thicker and denser weaves such as chino, twill, oxford, and broadcloth will make a skirt more androgynous and will capture common elements of mainstream male clothing. Denim can be tricky and might be best avoided for at least the first three months (or else risk a Village People motif).
Fit. While men’s pants are sized by waist and length, women’s sizes use arbitrary numbers with almost no relationship to anatomical measurements. Women’s skirts are cut for two zones—waist and hips—which takes into account the different contours of a women’s body. But because the sizes are not tied to actual measurements, something called vanity sizing has evolved over the years. Basically, the idea is that printing a smaller numerical size on the label will cause a woman to prefer one brand over another. One of the worst vanity retailers is Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft where a size 6 Petite is roughly equivalent to a size 10 Regular at other retailers. For the most part, a reasonably fit man of average height can expect to wear a size 10 to 14. There is also something called the rise which is a measurement of the height of a garment on one’s lower back (more on this later on). Women’s waists are higher than men’s so their skirts are cut to be worn higher. Being able to recognize the rise will prevent the skirt from looking awkward.
Masculinity and Femininity
As noted previously, it is difficult to refer to a woman’s skirt as “masculine” so my references as such refer to exploiting certain attributes in a way that makes the skirt less feminine, more androgynous, and more congruent with masculine aesthetics. In this line, the single most determining characteristic of a skirt’s masculinity or femininity is its cut. Crisp straight lines communicate power while fluid planes suggest docility. By way of example, compare women’s business fashion with wedding attire. A woman’s business skirt suit has pronounced lines and crisp surfaces while formal gowns have fluid lines and gathered planes. In this way, a skirt that wafts, flows, or clings will accentuate femininity while a skirt that controls its movement will downplay femininity. This does not in itself make the skirt masculine by cultural norms, but by avoiding overt femininity, the wearer can more easily re-purpose the garment for a masculine aesthetic.
There are far too many of the “feminine” cuts to discuss in detail, but the masculine cuts are much more concise: straight, pencil, and a-line. These cuts are also typically constructed from weightier fabrics which enhance the masculine aesthetic. Following cut, the next biggest characteristic is color. Darker, earthier tones will convey more masculinity and are typically available as solid colors. In contrast, prints, pastels, and brights will have a significantly feminine flair. A white skirt can go either way and really depends on the cut, fabric, and skin tone. Length is also a consideration and in general a “masculine” skirt should be above the kneecap or all the way to the ankle. A skirt that covers the knees or does not reach the ankles makes it difficult to style with other male accessories. No man should wear a skirt that is shorter than his fingertips, but even that length can be tricky so use Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. character as a guide.
There are also a number of minor features that can significantly effect how the skirt is perceived. The presence or absence of pockets and belt loops, for instance, will make a huge perceptive difference. Unless one plans on carrying a satchel, backpack, or laptop, pockets are very helpful and a wallet in the back pocket really helps to reinforce masculinity. Belt loops, of course, afford the option to wear a medium-width belt which will have considerable impact on the overall presentation. Belts also permit the wearing of masculine accessories such as a leatherman or phone holster. For those who haven’t noticed, women wear belts less than fifty percent of the time but when they do, their belts are either very thin or very wide, and they never clip items to their waistlines. Therefore, a medium belt with some type of clip-on item will subliminally communicate that the skirted man is purposefully defining his own (hybrid) style. A wristwatch will add a further masculine nuance.
Wearing a Skirt . . . in Public
It goes without saying that wearing a skirt in a culture and society that implicitly considers the skirt to be a woman’s garment takes a certain measure of character, independence, and confidence. But no matter how confident a person might be, it will take time to bring one’s mental and physical selves into harmony. Every man will initially feel awkward, out-of-place, and self-conscious and if the man feels awkward, he will appear awkward, and he will give the creeps to those around him (but more on confidence later on).
I started wearing skirts one exceedingly hot July week and I suggest that a man begin wearing skirts in the summer, first because wearing a skirt in cooler seasons takes a certain panache that requires at least six months to attain, second because skirts are less likely to stand out among men wearing shorts, and third because summer temperatures give the newbie a quick and simple answer to the “why” question.
The week that I first wore a skirt, I was apprehensive of a lot of things. I was particularly concerned that wind or a stride-induced air current might vaguely suggest my lower anatomy. I wrongly believed that I had some duty to shield the public from consciousness of my anatomy even though it was a perfectly natural part of my body. After a few days of internal conflict, I finally came to the realization that I would never instruct a woman to subdue the visible form of her upper anatomy, so on what basis was I imposing this inegalitarian demand upon myself? I was in fact being (mis)guided by culturally-taught misandrist thoughts that men are inherently bad and that anything that a man does which might alarm a woman is a man’s fault and man’s duty to avoid. On the contrary, though, true equality begins with abandoning those notions. A woman who wears a skirt is not potentiating her becoming a victim of assault and a man who wears a skirt is being neither predator nor pervert.
Wearing a skirt in public begins with recognizing one’s right to dress as (s)he wishes. It is a declaration of personal freedom and a offcasting of the tyranny of social conformance. Developing one’s confidence starts with being happy with the overall “look” of the outfit. Each man must find his own path, but here are my tips for getting started.
Shirts. The right shirt makes a huge difference in conveying one’s message. A hard polo or a strong oxford upstairs signals that one’s downstairs skirt is not his attempt to cross-dress. The right shirt also shows that the man knows how to coordinate and how to put together a smart ensemble. A highly contrasting fitted t-shirt also works (a fitted t-shirt will have seams on each side and often slightly shorter sleeves). But regardless of the shirt chosen, it is best worn tucked in! Here again, women wear their blouses untucked more than half of the time but women’s blouses are also a good bit shorter than men’s shirts so that even when worn untucked, her blouse does not hang much below her waist. At first blush, one would think that an untucked shirt would be more masculine, but most of the time it looks really weird. The visual lines of a an untucked man’s shirt draws attention to the skirt itself by creating a linear continuity from the shoulders all the way to the skirt’s hem. The untucked shirt blurs the hard lines that would otherwise convey power. An untucked shirt also makes the ensemble appear haphazardly or sloppily put together. The procedure for tucking a shirt into a skirt has some extra steps, though. After tucking in the shirt, the skirt needs to be raised above the waist and then inverted. This allows the shirttail to be pulled down and any excess fabric to be pulled to the sides. After the skirt is turned right-side-out it can be adjusted downward to the appropriate waistline.
Footwear. The newbie will do well to wear darker-toned hiking shoes/boots. Athletic shoes can also work but might not coordinate as smoothly as one would like. In really hot and humid climates, however, plain, unadorned, brown or black women’s thong sandal flats work really, really well. In my opinion, men’s sandals are hideous and thong flip-flops are just plain tacky. Women’s footwear is narrower than men’s footwear, but it is sized fairly close. In general a man will probably need to go up one size and/or look for wide width (when available). Target and Payless are great places to look (these links are pre-filtered). Look carefully at their products as any bling often can be cut off to make the sandal acceptable.
It is almost guaranteed that larger-size sandals will not be available as second-hand items because a lot of retailers do not sell larger than size 10 or size 11 so a woman who finds that perfect pair keeps them until they fall apart. But as previously stated, heel-strap thong sandal flats are great in the sweltering months and are usually acceptable under employer dress code for women (and again, we are premising our attire on gender equality, right?). Loafers or athletic shoes run a close second in comfort. If going this route, it is a good idea to pick up some women’s sneaker socks and/or shoe liners. These items are available pretty much anywhere including dollar stores. Sneaker socks are more invisible than ankle socks. A shoe liner is the most minimal of all as it has no top to it. It literally covers just the toes and the back of the heel. Generally speaking, most women get away with going sockless because they have far fewer sweat glands on their feet. Sneaker socks and liners exist for those whose feet do sweat, or for those who need protection against chaffing.
Underwear. From a practical standpoint, there are few options for the skirted man. Boxers are too bulky to be worn under a skirt and briefs are prone to creating a bulge which can be socially awkward (but once again, this is not to suggest that a man should feel ashamed of his body any more than a women should feel shame for her body). Jock straps work better than briefs, but in general, a man will best minimize the profile of his anatomy by wearing boxer briefs or by going au naturel. A half-slip also works well to smooth and hide contours and it feels nice against the skin while adding a little warmth in the spring or fall. Ultimately, though, what a man wears under his skirt is simple: exactly what a woman wears under her skirt—no one’s god damn business! Some women routinely go commando, some women occasionally go au naturel, some women are mortified at the thought. Some women wear briefs. Some women wear boyshorts. Some women wear thongs. Some women wear slips. Some women wear pantyhose. A women’s choice makes her neither a whore nor a nun, and a man’s choice makes him neither a devient nor a pervert.
Occasionally someone in the public sphere asks me what I wear under my skirt. At first I asked why, and the most common reason given related to “regimental” kilts. I suspect that those who say they are “just curious” are simply too embarrassed to admit that they themselves enjoy going commando. I have largely quit asking why, and I typically smile and playfully say “sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t” or “dare to ask, dare to look.” The latter response seems to drive home the point that curiosity is normal, but acting on such curiosity can be inappropriate in all its forms. The inquirer usually apologies and I explain that I am not offended. Curiosity is natural and our society is largely to blame for the failure to grasp the inappropriateness of the inquiry (this is particularly true for women who thereupon realize that they just did to a man that which would have been infuriating had the same question been posed to her by a man).
Composure. There is only one thing to keep in mind when wearing a skirt: Keep your knees together. For the most part, a skirt will keep its wearer mindful that he has a large opening down below, and this is particularly true of straight and pencil cuts which will not allow the wearer to sit with his legs splayed apart. It does not require a great deal of effort to remember and it will become second nature in time. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter when sitting behind a desk or at a table. In other situations, a skirted man can extend his legs straight out and cross his ankles which will keep his legs sufficiently close together without crushing his jewels. if leg fatigue becomes an issue, one can always tuck the skirt snugly under the thighs and the skirt will then act like a wrap to keep the legs together without having to consciously or physically do so. Another option is crossing one’s legs at the knees and this can be accomplished by grasping the skirt’s hem (as if to straighten it) while deftly reaching up with a finger and lifting the jewels out of the way. Kneeling or crouching should be done instead of squatting to retrieve something from the floor or from a lower shelf. Here keeping one’s feet and ankles together will also keep one’s knees together. Getting out of a vehicle usually isn’t a problem as the car door provides adequate shielding, but if extreme precaution is warranted, swivel 90 degrees (with butt in the seat and legs together), place both feet on the ground, and then stand up. It can also be helpful to do a Google image search (pick your own search terms) so as to learn from others’ mistakes .
Confidence. The first week or so it is normal to avoid walking across open spaces in malls or stores, but this timidity fades quickly and, honestly, a lot of people won’t even notice that the the guy walking past them is wearing a skirt. It is imperative to keep one’s head up and one of the biggest mistakes is constantly looking down. Don’t walk around with a goofy smile, but if someone chuckles, just smile and nod your head as if to say “right on!” (in a soulful Shaft or Marvin Gaye kind of way). Acting like a man’s skirt is perfectly natural will make the wearer feel normal and at ease, and others will subconsciously mirror that attitude. Even so, perhaps one of the hardest frontiers to cross is the gym locker room (it’s even more awkward than church). I can’t fully explain why, but it is the final frontier and once conquered, there is nothing left to fear.
Leg hair. Since men usually don’t shave their legs to wear shorts, there is no automatic reason to shave their legs to wear skirts. That said, there are reasons why a man might shave his legs regardless of his attire. Competitive male swimmers generally remove all body hair, many men with very little body hair remove their (usually chest) patches, and some male runners shave their legs and arms. A man with very pale skin, though, might wish to retain his body hair to add perceived color, but very hairy men might take electric clippers to their bodies before going to the beach as having less body hair makes applying sunscreen so much easier. I have experimented with both options and I have found aesthetic justifications for both, but I slightly prefer a shaggy look which seems more masculine to me. Still, the choice comes down to personal preference. There is nothing wrong with shaving one’s legs and there is nothing wrong with not shaving one’s legs either. I encourage other men to try shaving at least once. Electric clippers are fine for experimentation but it takes quite a bit of acclamation so give it a minimum thirty-day trial. If completely smooth skin is desired, I recommend using Shick’s Intuition Sensitive Care.
Penile tumescence & epididymal hypertension. These are natural physiological occurrences and a man should not feel ashamed (after all, women’s breasts can swell cyclically and their nipples might harden spontaneously, but they carry on as normal, right?) But to avoid embarrassment for those men who choose to go au naturel—at least for the first two weeks or so—it is advisable to cut the elastic waistband from a pair of boxers. Wear it around the thighs just below the buttocks. If tumescence happens, it is easy enough to nudge the elastic band downward to restrain that member. In time both epididymal hypertension and penile tumescence will cease to be issues as the body adjusts to the new experience. (It won’t be an ongoing “burden” as famously penned in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata).
Shopping for Skirts
Shopping for skirts is as enjoyable as it is intimidating…like driving a car for the first time…but a man has to adjust his thinking to that of a woman. Men wear clothes until they are completely worn out and not fit for further use. Women, however, keep an item until they become bored with it. Premium brands like Gap or Columbia usually find their way to consignment shops such as Plato’s Closet while store brands usually wind up at thrift stores. Value brands like Old Navy can go either direction but luxury labels like Ann Taylor often wind up at church-run thrift shops. As for discount retailers, I have struck gold at Ross but generally strike out at TJ Maxx.
Shopping at large thrift stores is the ideal starting point because these will have a variety of cuts, fabrics, and fits so as to afford a quick and comprehensive education. Their wares are also cheap and when trying to start one’s collection of skirts, a man will inevitably have a lot of “maybes” that don’t turn out as well-suited as initially hoped. Sometimes a man will find a great skirt but it has some odd embroidery or is slightly too long, too flared, to pleated, etc. If he spends just $4 on the skirt, spending $25 on alterations isn’t all that bad. On the other hand, if the skirt doesn’t work out then it’s not a big investment. I have found many skirts that I think will work in the store, but I have learned to always wear them at least once at home. This gives me a chance to get used to it so as to avoid public accidents and on several occasions this has also led me to realize that I didn’t feel comfortable in it (or at least not comfortable enough to wear in public).
Skorts. A skort combines a skirt with an internal short. Unfortunately, the short components are not anatomically compatible with men! But this does not mean that all skorts should be discarded as very often the short can be cut out. Skorts can actually be a great source for rugged, outdoorsy aesthetics as so many of them are designed and marketed for active women who enjoy passtimes like hiking and camping. Skorts also tend to be cut somewhere between straight and a-line and this makes them breezier and more comfortable in the sweltering months. But once again, this is where shopping at thrift stores can be helpful. If the skirt shell simply doesn’t work after removing the short, it wasn’t a big investment in the first place.
A-lines. A-line cuts will always be airier and more comfortable than straight cuts, but this extra room comes with the danger of the unintentional flash. For starters, straight skirts restrain the maximum angle of a man’s legs but with an a-line skirt there is slight increase in the chance that a man might forget to keep his legs together!
Stretch fabric. Stretch fabric actually works rather well on many body types (note, though that I’m talking about modest 1%-3% stretch component and definitely not bodycon). But undies are a categorical no-no with stretch fabrics because boxerbriefs will be visible and anything else will accentuate a forward bulge which, while not shaming our bodies, can be just down right awkward. There is a clear difference between passive knowledge of one’s anatomy and putting that anatomy on display! Stretch fabrics accentuate one’s backside (assuming it deserves to be accentuated) and control hem flare thus making the skirt more structured and less feminine.
Rise. One thing to keep in mind about adapting women’s skirts to a man’s body is that a woman’s waistline is higher than a man’s and this extra height of women’s garments at the small of the back is known as its “rise.” This is more easily understood through women’s pants. Low-cut jeans have zero rise while slacks which sit at or above the navel have considerable rise. But whereas pants have a crotch that determines how high or how low the garment should be worn, skirts are less obvious, and many skirts are meant to be worn at the navel!
Rise does not just determine how high the garment sits on the body, but it also determines where the garment begins to curve for the hips and buttocks. Unlike pants, it can be difficult to determine the rise of a skirt just by looking at it on a hanger. Rather, when trying on a skirt, if it just doesn’t seem quite right on the body, it might just need to be worn higher. Once the skirt sits properly on the buttocks recheck other angles in the mirror. A proper rise adjustment can drastically improve the skirt’s appearance from the front and sides.
Selection. Stick to the selected aesthetic criteria with leeway to fudge one element but never more than one. Also, a skirt that is too large, too loose, too small, or too tight will not only look really weird, but will be a disaster waiting to happen. However, an awesome skirt that is too big or too flared can usually be altered by a good seamstress at a reasonable price. In fact, a solid seamstress can work miracles with garments. I once brought an item to a Russian seamstress with the instruction to “make it masculine” and for $45 she did just that and it gets tons of compliments. If unsure as to a skirt, buy it and take it to an independent seamstress and ask what can be done to butch it up (seamstresses that design, make, or alter costumes are especially suited for the task). After all, a non-returnable second-hand purchase is not a significant financial investment and retail purchases can be returned if she advises against alteration.
Still Not Sold on Skirts?
The quickest way to “try before you buy” is what I call the redneck kilt. Turn a seamed muscle shirt (such as ones sold by Old Navy) inside out and step through the arm holes. Pull it all the way up to the groin, cinch it with a belt at the natural waistline, and fold it down over the belt. If it is too short, cut the shoulder pieces and raise it up more before folding over the belt. This provides more length but sacrifices the extra layer otherwise masking that forward and rear anatomy. Wear the redneck kilt around the house for a day and take a two hour drive to get a sense of how much more comfortable the experience will be on an even longer trip or while toiling away at an office cubicle.
The reality is that most people are too preoccupied with their own insecurities to care much about what other people do. Never forget that insecure people admire confident people. When all is said and done, we have to understand that before worrying about whether others will judge us, we must ask ourselves why we even give a GDF about some stranger’s judgmental opinion.
I am sometimes asked if I have ever forgotten that I was wearing a skirt and unthinkingly let my legs sprawl. The answer is that this has happened only once in the eighteen months that I have been wearing skirts but the circumstances were an unlikely trifecta. First, the skirt was actually a skort with the short removed. Second, the skirt was two size too big (it was a 14 and I wear 10s and 12s). Third, I was sitting at a table. The table gave me a false sense of visual obscurity, the size increased the exposure window, and the cut deprived me of the modesty reminder. I later found out that a few people got a view from the far side of the room. Worse still, they didn’t bother to give me a friendly heads-up and instead gossiped about it. I would say that, more than anything else, I was disappointed in those who saw the wardrobe malfunction but said nothing about it. Moreover, the embarrassment that I felt was not due to the accidental exposure but rather due to my mental lapse. I read a post somewhere on the internet (Quora, perhaps) in which a fellow suggested that there was nothing wrong with men wearing skirts except for the fact men lack the years of “modesty training” that women receive from childhood. That poster’s logic was absurd. Ask any woman if she forgets that she is wearing a skirt. The reality is that the “air-conditioning” comfort that one feels keeps the wearer mindful of the skirt and straight skirts will further keep a fellow mindful to keep his knees together. Apart from this, however, there is risk of catching the hem on various items like backpacks (or, eh hem, like the garment hanger of clothes draped over an arm). But there again, I have seen similar things happen to ladies so the thing for everyone to remember is that accidents are just accidents.
For most Americans, seeing a man in a skirt is so unusual that they have not had the occasion to formulate an opinion on the matter. I choose to think that these are wonderful teaching moments. In fact, I even printed up some punch-out business cards on my ink-jet that I can hand to people to refer them to my blog post on “Why I Wear Skirts.”
As I have pointed out in other posts, one of my principal skirt arguments stems from gender equality in the workplace and I strongly encourage men to structure their skirt selections with the workplace in mind. While personal preference and expression are sacrosanct ideals, we are ambassadors of a social movement, and that movement is not served by selections that are too extreme for our fellow citizens to admit into their realms of normalcy. This is nothing new to counterculture movements such as post-Vietnam long hair or electric guitar solos of the national anthem. In-their-face approaches are sometimes necessary, but sometimes subtlety is more fruitful.
With all these advices in mind, I say, go forth confidently and enjoy your personal freedom! The personal rewards are worth the investment of time, thought, and energy.