Real Men Wear Skirts

From the fall runways to city streets, men are donning kilts and other skirts this year. Have designers finally brought the Highlands to the main land?

03.18.09 6:17 AM ET

It is possible to blame man skirts’ recent resurgence on designer Marc Jacobs, who has been donning them for seasons. Or one could also trace it further back to the Scots and the Irish, whose kilt-wearing habits have spawned their own international holiday—‘ Kilt Day,' which conveniently falls on St. Patrick’s Day. The latter’s slogan, ‘Real Men Wear Kilts,’ may have in the past seemed a bit far fetched, but, these days, given the increasing visibility of men in skirts on both runways and street corners, the statement seems the opposite of outlandish.

“It’s not for everyone,” says Barneys fashion director, “but we do have customers that want unique style and their own personal statement is ‘how to be different than others’ This fits that criteria perfectly.”

At Men’s Fall 2009 Fashion Week, which took place this January, skirts showed up on numerous runways. Comme des Garcons showcased metallic versions both long and short, while Jean Paul Gaultier opted for a beige and black plaid version, worn over matching pants. The now defunct Number (N)ine showcased a straightforward brown wool pleated kilt; Yohji Yamamoto decked out his male models in ankle-length wrap skirts. Rick Owens, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen likewise sent highlands-inspired creations down their men’s catwalks. And Marc Jacobs sported a below-the-knee black version over Louis Vuitton’s neon Stephen Sprouse leggings when he took his final bow after his show for Vuitton.

Number (N)ine Autumn/Winter 2009. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, ubiquitous street-style photographer Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist has been snapping fashionable men sporting skirts on the streets of New York since last summer—when he published a particular post addressing the issue that subsequently prompted 160 comments ranging from, “the only time I'd say it flies is if you're Samoan, Scottish, or in drag,” to “it's about time!”

And the trend hasn’t solely found footing in cosmopolitan, high-fashion-friendly cities. A Pennsylvanian self-described as an average American guy (appropriately named ‘Joe’) has caused a significant amount of controversy thanks to a letter he wrote Dear Abby back in December seeking advice on skirt etiquette, saying that he enjoys the style, but understands it’s far from socially accepted. While Joe’s letter was originally printed on December 31 of last year, as recent as this week fans and foes of the skirt-sporting Pennsylvanian have written Abby both defending and condemning the gender-bending trend.

Filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen, whose award-winning feature film Hunger is currently garnering substantial critical acclaim, was pictured on the last page of last week’s New York Times T men’s style issue in a long navy skirt courtesy of Yohji Yamamoto.

Comme des Garcons Autumn/Winter 2009. (Getty Images)

But it wasn’t until the release of Barneys New York’s spring mailer this week that the man skirt/kilt was injected with a serious dose of downtown street cred. In the aforementioned mailer’s pages, NYC’s The Virgins’ front man and former model Donald Cumming is pictured in a short Thom Browne skirt. Barneys Fashion Director Julie Gilhart says of the piece, “Actually it is a kilt (skirt-like in front, shorts in the back) even though it looks like a skirt. It’s not for everyone but we do have customers that want unique style and their own personal statement is ‘how to be different than others’ This fits that criteria perfectly.”

It’s official: from the Beatrice Inn to Burma, the man skirt has officially been introduced into mainstream fashion lexicon. Whether or not real men start wearing skirts remains to be seen. But, just remember: in the words of dear Abby herself, “as long as you have the testicular fortitude and shapely enough legs to wear skirts, then you have my blessing.”

Alisa Gould-Simon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. She also covers fashion and culture for BlackBook, New York and PAPER among other publications.