Part of the women’s liberation movement was inventing new vocabulary which enabled women to differentiate their agenda as the pursuit of equality and not emulation. Women sought to be treated equally as men (particularly in employment) but it was also clear that they were not to be regarded as men. Employment law shifted accordingly such that if trousers were acceptable attire for men, they must also be acceptable attire for women. And since men were not required to wear stockings or heels, neither could women. As I have pointed out in other posts, these cultural strides were not reciprocated for men. While it remained acceptable for women to wear sandals to the office, I have yet to read a single employee dress code that specifically extends such option to men. (Granted, no one wants to see most men’s feet, and most men lack fashion sensibility to select dignified sandals, but the same can be said for a number of women as well.)
Historical commentary suggests that it was the fashion industry that first recognized the necessity of a new vocabulary in order to engage the diversifying womenswear market. Women consumers were believed to be averse to purchasing mere analogues of menswear. Bifurcated womenswear was therefore marketed as slacks instead of pants and romper instead of (c)overall. Sales later affirmed that new terminology gained stronger traction and broader consumer acceptance. New terminology enabled women to engage the fashion transgression and claim a formerly “male” garment as their own. Men wore pants because that was what men wore. But women who wore slacks did so for comfort, to retain their feminine identity, and to comply with sociocultural expectations. But women wanted it clear that their aim was not mere emulation of men. Decades later, hardly anyone still says slacks.
The same will be true of unbifurcated menswear. The internet shows a disproportionate bias for the kilt: skirts are womenswear, but kilts are menswear. Just as (most) women did not want to be perceived masculinely for their clothing, so too pragmatic men are restrained by sociocultural hostility. An appreciable number of American men will stridently don kilts for any and every contextually flexible scenario: renaissance festivals, mardi gras, St. Patrick’s Day, etc. I think this is because these men pine for unbifurcated freedom, but believe that this universally-recognized menswear style will avoid damage to their masculinity. Far fewer men wear kilts outside of indulgent contexts and I think this further reveals a very real fear of having their masculinity questioned as if their unbifurcated preference were suggestive of a “feminine side”. After all, if the kilt were so clearly masculine, why wouldn’t it be masculine on any ordinary day of the week?
I previously addressed the need for a new clothing designation in my Double Standards post. Not to diminish my off-the-cuff suggestion of “breathers,” but maybe a great designation would be skolt: skirt + shorts + kilt.