I have worn a skirt most days since July 16, 2016. I often see the curiosity in people’s eyes, but I am surprised by how few ask me questions directly. This is, after all, the deep south far from international megatropolises like Miami, Los Angeles, and New York where cultural anomalies might be more commonplace. Recently, a librarian lamented that I had not kept a blog of my experience and this led me to think that just maybe the public at large might be interested in my underlying social argument.
As a starter, I deny that the skirt is an exclusively feminine garment. The American celebrities Jaden Smith, Marc Jacobs, and Jared Leto regularly wear skirts and skirt-like garments, as do countless Scotsmen, Japanese, Indonesians, Fijians, Samoans, and roughly one billion Indian and Arab men.
A few decades ago, the women’s liberation movement argued that gender equality afforded women as much right as men to wear pants in the workplace. Workplaces, in turn, shape the culture of industrialized nations. One example of this is the gender-segregated toilet which appears to have started in 1887 when Massachusetts and New York legislated that employers provide separate toilets for female employees (but whether women were required to toilet separately is less clear). Factory inspectors thereafter frequently included superfluous comments in their reports concerning the propriety of toilet facilities—in some cases, noting that entrances to women’s toilets were not sufficiently hidden. If this sounds bizarre, it will help to know that this was the height of the Victorian era and it was scandalous for the public to have knowledge that women also obeyed nature’s call. Inspectors also frequently remarked on the adequacy of adjoining lounge areas where women could rest and recover their strength when the boisterous world so taxed them that they grew faint (of course, fainting spells had much more to do with their unhealthy corsets).
In a 20,000-word essay published in 2007, Professor Terry Kogan of the University of Utah School of Law argues that gender-segregated toileting is purely a consequence of societal changes during the American industrial revolution (which came later than the European industrial revolution) combined with a little known “sanitarian movement,” both arising during the Victorian era. Professor Kogan poignantly suggests that gender-segregated toilets had little (if anything) to do with the anatomical or sexual differences between men and women.
I wonder if the same could be said of bifurcated garments. Pants are a relatively modern contrivance and speak more to Western exploration and industrialization than anything else. Pants are more practical for manual labor and they are definitely safer when working around machinery. But our society is now undeniably characterized by corporate environments, so what reason is there for cubicle-confined men to be denied more comfortable attire—especially when our summer temperatures swelter above 100 degrees?
Yes, temperature was actually the final straw for me one July afternoon when my Camry advised me that the outside temperature was 103° F. I went to a thrift store looking for some medical scrubs and instead left with two skirts. My employer’s dress code prohibited men and women from wearing shorts, but specifically permitted women to wear pants, skirts, and dresses. While an employer may lawfully ban certain garments, it seemed to me that since skirts had been deemed acceptable, it would be discriminatory to allow only one gender to enjoy them (as shown by the aforementioned women’s lib movement).
I can tell you that skirts can be far more comfortable than pants. Additionally, they have also become a platform to promote a sociopolitical message of equality and acceptance, and a condemnation of pervasive appearance-based prejudices like sexism and racism. I am quite particular in the styles that I wear, and I usually pair them with strong polo or oxford shirt and other masculine accessories. I don’t shave my legs and to my knowledge no one mistakes me for a mere cross-dresser. I sometimes get perplexed smiles and chuckles in public spaces, but I have not been accosted, threatened, or harassed. I am single and I can still flirt with ladies and they flirt back. Sure, I have to step up my game, but merely wearing a skirt is not an automatic block (and perhaps even presents an advantage as a manifestly self-confident person is always more alluring). As a case in point, I subsequently worked elsewhere and I even interviewed for that job wearing a skirt.
I would like to point out that skirts are functionally superior than pants and shorts. Skirts afford better conduction of heat away from the femoral blood vessels. Better thermoregulation, in turn, reduces perspiration and itching, and improves reproductive system health. Plus, skirts eliminate wedgies and plumber crack. In 2009 H&M briefly introduced a line of men’s skirts. Today there is a neat carpenter design available online from Utilikilt as well as a unisex skirt from SkirtCraft. There are commercial lines of male and female running skirts and a growing community of avid backpackers who wear skirts to thwart the “crotch rot” menace while on the trail.
Just because bathroom icons still depict women in skirts and men in pants does not mean that a man who wears a skirt is automatically a cross-dresser or sexual deviant. In actuality, gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation are all independent variables that comprise a person’s sexual self (but that is a subject for another blog post). Societal expectations evolve slowly and effecting change takes time, participation, and dialogue. In this line, I want to encourage others to find within themselves the personal freedom to expand their horizons, and I also invite those who see me in the community to feel at ease asking any questions on their mind.
Read an article in a local paper that came about as a result of this blog post.