Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, ’cause it’s okay to be a boy, but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading. The obvious over-simplification of a complex matter aside, these lines from Madonna’s 2000 song What It Feels Like For A Girl does, to a great extent, strike a chord of truth. Over half a century ago, women boldly stepped out of their passive domesticity and entered the “man’s world” in men’s wardrobe, and now an androgynous wardrobe is pretty much a necessity for women; we see them in offices, we see them in shops, on the streets. Yet the same cannot be said for men, who are openly ridiculed upon donning garments traditionally worn by women. This can be seen amply in television wherein, until very recently, and to some extent even today, cross-dressing for men was mostly reserved for comedic purposes or banished to the alien realm of “drag” purgatory. However, a trend has been creeping in of late, mostly led by quixotic world-stage fashion designers and artists looking to make a statement, of men rocking skirts, long hair tied up in a knot or a bun, lipstick, the works, and now this trend has taken up a strong hold globally. The New York Fashion Week this year was dominated by men in skirts. Jared Leto has constantly been seen out in eclectic combinations of skirts with zany coats and blazers in bright neons, rocking a man bun (a”‘mun”) along with that whole Jesus vibe he has going for him. Ezra Miller, the young actor who creeped everyone out with his psychotic role in We Need to Talk about Kevin, is never shy of putting on skirts, buns, stilettos or even thick coats of red lipstick. Hozier can always be seen in his signature rugged denims with a thick mane of luxuriant wavy brown hair often tied up in a sexy bun. Kanye West back in 2013 got Twitter abuzz as he waltzed around the stage wearing a black leather skirt over black leather pants. Jaden Smith recently tweeted that he rather likes shopping in the “girls” section of a store. The examples are endless.
A trend has been creeping in of late, mostly led by quixotic world-stage fashion designers and artists looking to make a statement, of men rocking skirts, long hair tied up in a knot or a bun, lipstick, the works, and now this trend has taken up a strong hold globally.
Sure, it can be claimed that these are all merely examples of known eccentrics looking for attention or to make a statement just because they can, just like the David Bowie or Kurt Cobain before them. And yet it is plainly evident that these are not just individual artistic eccentricities anymore. A quick Tumblr stroll would reveal recent blogs like “Men in Skirts”, “Nice Skirt, Bro”, “Guy With Top Knots” or ”F**k Yeah, Men with Buns” having come up in the same tradition of “F**k Yeah, Ellie Goulding” or “F**k Yeah, Lady Gaga”. In fact, even on a random stroll across any university campus across Delhi, one would see plenty of men with thick beards and thicker buns. While skirts are still a long way from becoming mainstream, they are definitely on their way.
Sanjukta Roy, a Kolkata based designer of traditional ethnic attire, recently introduced a new line of clothing with the rather telling tagline, “Why should girls have all the fun?” It features men dressed in brightly coloured traditional hand woven skirts and lungis, complete with stone-studded fingers and thick bangles, in an attempt to blur gender boundaries when it comes to clothing. “Most men are so attached to their blues blacks and greys,” she said, “they don’t like to experiment with colours. I believe skirts would always be unisex, lungis too. Saris are just fabrics waiting to be draped in one’s own style. I’ve been told so many times by men that I should change this or that, because it is not wearable by men.” However, she went on to add that her work has drawn a greater appreciation from the younger crowd, who she believes are more open to experimentation. “They are okay with this fluidity,” she added, and are less “socially conditioned”. It can be seen that perhaps the rising trend of androgynous clothing is due to the generational shift.
So why now, you might ask? Why should the trend catch on now, when there has clearly been so much precedent for it to catch on earlier as well? The Scottish had their kilts, we had our dhotis and lungis, English monarchs of medieval times too had their own versions of skirts, and various influential rock stars through the ages have donned the skirt. But I suppose the time is now ripe for clothing to be de-gendered because the social landscape today favours a more gender-neutral approach in general. We’re living in an age wherein gender, sexuality, cross-dressing and similar subjects are hot button issues. Vogue recently profiled its first transgender woman, Andreja Pejic, an Australian model; English model Cara Delevigne has been leading gender discussions by appearing in androgynous outfits; movies and TV series are increasingly interested in exploring issues faced by erstwhile marginalised communities; over the past decade or so, gender-normative roles and characteristics have been made suspect – women may work, men may throw on an apron; in light of all these advancements it only seems natural that the next gender boundary in need of some transgressing would be in the field of clothing. This does not necessarily mean that transvestism is on the rise, for that would imply that there is an adherence to certain clothing items’ inherent “femaleness” or “masculinity”. This rising trend is more an evidence of gender-nullification altogether. Hence when Jared Leto throws on a skirt, no one says he’s emancipated or that he’s “girly”; it doesn’t in any way threaten his masculinity, he just looks cool.