King Charles III wore a kilt for his first public engagement in Scotland after Queen Elizabeth II’s death, yet current western society hasn’t whole-heartedly embraced men wearing kilts, or other skirt-like garments.
Today, women enjoy most of the advantages of men’s attire. However, men’s fashion is still subject to the tyranny of trousers, and there remains a taboo surrounding men in skirts.
Trousers were forged in the crucible of two revolutions – the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.
Extravagance in dress was considered one of the most tangible expressions of the French aristocracy. French revolutionaries and their sympathizers adopted the typical working-class dress for men in the 18th century – loose baggy trousers and jackets. Their slogan, “Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood”, found its outward manifestation in the clothing of the revolutionaries and their sympathizers.
Advocating for the reform of French dress was an outward sign of a concern for democracy and equality.
The Industrial Revolution factory system of mass production and the often-dangerous work gave rise to functional clothes that lessened the possibility of injury from clothing getting caught in machinery.
Loose fitting garments yielded to the practical need for safety in the mechanized world of the Industrial Revolution.
The stigma of men in skirts can be traced back to the strict dress codes and gender rules adopted with industrialization.
However, men in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East continued to wear traditional garments – kimonos, sarongs, caftans, djellabas. It’s only in the West that skirts, or dresses, are assigned to women alone. Skirts and dresses aren’t demarcated by gender around the world.
Fashion designers have often looked to non-Western cultures for sources of both inspiration and legitimization.
In historical military garb, the display of male legs was a sign of virility and athleticism mirrored in the dress of Scottish Highland warriors, Roman gladiators and Greek gods.
Scottish troops in World War I fought in kilts but they lost their practical credibility by the beginning of World War II.
The modern kilt albeit relegated to ceremonial events still evokes a heighten sense of masculinity in the current popular imagination.
With King Charles III’s ascent to the British throne, he continues to advocate for training in traditional Scottish skills including tartan textiles at his foundation school https://princes-foundation.org/school-of-traditional-arts in Scotland.
One graduate of the tartan textile program is Graeme Bone, a former Scottish construction worker. Mr. Bone has become world-renown for his handsewn Scottish luxury kilts. https://graeme-bone-fashion.square.site.
The revolutionary spirit of men in kilts still courses through the fashion world.
For 21st century youth and subcultures, the kilt, and skirts, continue to be a means, and a symbol of transgression and self-expression.
However, Graeme Bone is just one example of many designers working to popularize men in kilts by taking them off the catwalks of the fashion world and onto the sidewalks of the cities of the world.
Who knows when there will be a cultural tipping point where anybody can wear a kilt, or a skirt – where it’s no longer a rebellious act of fashion but an ordinary choice not dictated by cultural constraints.
Perhaps, one of King Charles III’s contributions to modernity will be ushering in the age of the kilt, or the skirt, with widespread acceptability regardless of one’s gender. Time will tell.