Barbara Sumner Burstyn wants to know who wears the skirts in your family
Tuesday, 1 June, 2004
In ours the question's a no-brainer. My husband, of course.
Well, it's not a skirt exactly (as he's at pains to remind me) but a utilikilt, a reputably comfortable alternative to trousers. Certainly my husband, all 50 years of him, is sold on the idea. He reports that his forest green version is the most comfortable thing he's ever worn. “It's like when they handed out the dress codes they got them mixed up,” he says, smoothing the pleats over his spread knees.
It's not as if men in skirts is new. Bravehearts: Men in Skirts, an exhibition (sponsored by skirt-loving fashionista Jean-Paul Gaultier) at the New York Metropolitan Museum finished a successful run in February. The exhibition explored the history and traditions of the skirted male, saying the masculine drape is an ideal means of transgressing moral and social codes. Andrew Bolton, associate curator of The Costume
Institute, says although men have enjoyed more sartorial freedom since the 1960s, they still lack access to the full repertoire of clothing worn by women.
At Seattle-based Utilikilt, my husband's designer of choice, they take a more staunch position. Committed to pioneering a comfortable alternative to trousers by producing “Men's Unbifurcated Garments” (MUGs), company founder Steven Villegas says Utilikit sells freedom. But it's clear it's working to a much bigger picture than just manufacturing sartorial freedom for men. The company seeks to define “business with a conscience” and channels company gains and resources back into the community. “We don't exploit cultures, peoples or environments to achieve capital gains,” says Villegas. To that end it manufactures in Seattle, rather than more cheaply in Asia, ensures its advertising is at least 50% focused on social causes, and runs a giveaway scheme that awards utilikilts to people who choose to donate their
skills to chosen organisations or charities.
But it's not just the lifting of the skirt taboo that signals a change in society â male and otherwise. While the image-obsessed metrosexual is old news, buried by the revelation that poster boy Beckham was just a garden-variety misogynist cheater in plaits, in Italy, the Italian Association of House-husbands is a fast growing organisation.
It argues that the image of the macho Italian man is all wrong. The society aims to teach men housework as an art form rather than a chore (you can tell they're new at this) and to help men reveal their feminine side.
Could the Kiwi male follow, at least as far as slipping into a MUG? Not likely, reckons Chris Dobbs, boss of Auckland fashion house Working Style. It's one thing to wear a lavalava at the beach; quite another to swap trousers for a skirt in the office.
Still, if it's good enough for the reinvented Gaddafi to strut on the European stage
in flowing skirts, for the band Fat Freddie's Drop and half the population of the Pacific to wear lavalavas, for generations of Campbells and McLeods to don their kilts, and for the men of India to live in their dhotis, then it's good enough for my husband to wear his utilikilt. After all, to a Roman, trousers were barbaric. They concealed a man's legs, considered shapely pillars of strength and virility.
What could be sarong with that?