Singer Harry Styles blew up the internet in 2020 for doing the simplest thing: wearing a dress.
His solo cover shoot for Vogue featured the former One Direction singer posing in a frothy, lace-trimmed dress from Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. In another photo, Harry poses beside a bike while wearing a Wales Bonner kilted skirt to complement his knitted sweater vest.
It was typical Harry Styles fashion: colorful, non-traditional and downright eye-catching. Although it was expected of him, his shoot sparked a heated conversation online regarding men in dresses. People rooted in traditional values called his fashion-forward style an “outright attack” to the reality of gender. “Bring back manly men,” one Twitter user said.
Styles never said anything about the issue, but the internet had plenty of thoughts about men in skirts or even men in dresses, most of them calling the fashion trend an aberration, an annihilation of gender and feminization of the masculinity of men. In short, an outrage to fashion.
Which makes you wonder: is it so wrong for men to be in dresses or is it time for traditionalists to suck it up and let our boys wear their skirts?
The History of Men Wearing Dresses
Gender-specific clothing did not exist until recently.
Too often, traditionalists forget that what is considered as “for men” or “for women” is just a social construct shaped by evolving fashion trends. In reality, history tells us that all clothes used to be gender-neutral.
Earlier in history, children wore white dresses up to the age of seven, without differentiating between girls and boys. Going further in history, Egyptian men wore the schenti, which was a wrap-around skirt that was belted at the waist.
Romans and Greeks wore togas and chitons, which were status symbols for the society’s elites. All genders and classes wore the tunica. Pants were unpopular were considered impractical and ridiculous. In fact, when the men of Rome entered Gauls wearing trousers, they were considered feminine.
Come the 15th century, men wore shorter and tighter-fitting tunics. During the war, men started to wear stockings or hoses as outer legwear. Full-skirted coats and long gowns were still considered acceptable and fashionable for men until the first half of the 20th century.
The end of the Second World War brought a clear divide between genders. When the term “gender” was introduced, it started to describe the cultural and social aspects of biological sex.
As the divide between testosterone and housewives widened, men’s fashion was suddenly limited to nothing but pants and trousers. The husbands that worked outside looked manlier in pants while the wives that stayed at home were daintier in their dresses. Since then, the idea of men in dresses became less acceptable as fashion standards declared that masculinity works well in trousers.
The Forerunners of the “Men Wearing Dresses” Movement
Harry Styles’ Vogue cover was viewed by many — or at least the supportive people — as a revolutionary statement in fashion. This isn’t wrong but the former member of One Direction wasn’t even close to being the first person to do so.
Billy Porter has appeared in many interviews and shows radiating his confidence through his extravagant skirts and dresses, plus his flamboyant garments. Prince gave Porter a run for his money by expressing his “feminine” side through the glitter, feathers and all things femme. There are many men — most of them are singers — who have confidently displayed their confidence by wearing skirts and dresses.
Kid Cudi also joins the “men in dresses” movement by elevating it while showing respect to the original male dress forerunners. At the same time, he contributed to the memory of another legendary singer and fashion icon, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
So is it OK for a Boy to Wear a Skirt?
If anything, the proper question should be “When has it never been OK for a man to wear a skirt or a dress?”
History has shown powerful men in skirts; the male members of the Royal Family are known for donning their kilts when out on holidays or when facing the public.
Skirts are for men as they are for women.
The disdain for men wearing dresses stems from a deep-rooted and internalized misogynistic belief that men are supposed to be brute creatures, always strong and tough. Men are not allowed to “catch feelings” or compromise their manliness.
As a result of toxic masculinity, naysayers of dresses for men offer the following arguments:
- Men in skirts look weird.
- They also look effeminate and men should not diminish their social stature by wearing the “inferior” sex’s fashion.
- Wearing a dress also violates religious traditions and restrictions.
- It can be confusing and promotes homosexuality.
- It is a deliberate provocation that can incite violence.
Simply put, a man is not a man if he wears a dress.
But if you look at the bigger picture, the clothes do not make the man; the man makes the man. The clothes are just the expression of the man. Just because a man chooses to wear a skirt, it doesn’t mean he is less of a man. Traditional masculinity is so restrictive and inhibitive, which is why subscribing to it limits one’s freedom of expression, especially with one’s clothing. Stressing out over a man in a dress should not be the norm.
Men are allowed to wear whatever they want.
Celebrities and rock stars have already expressed themselves through fashion trends. Harry Styles isn’t the first man to make a statement with a dress. Singers like Prince and David Bowie expressed their fluid masculinity by rocking dresses. Even Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain sulks coolly in a floral dress. Will Smith’s son Jaden is taking a page out of their books by intentionally wearing a skirt to reject gender conventions. Even “Montero: Call Me By Your Name” singer Lil Nas is joining the skirts for men movement!
And it’s not only the Western artists following the men in skirts movement. Recently, BTS’s Park Jimin posed in a CELINE wool & cotton kilt. His fellow BTS member V was also wearing a Norbury denim midi skirt over pants.
My son over FaceTime- “Mama, I can wear a skirt like Jimin, right? Sadie said skirts are for girls but I told her that BTS are boys & they wear ALL clothes & clothes don’t make me more of a boy cuz boys can wear anything they want and still be boys!” pic.twitter.com/ZKfMTbVhlo
— EverythingEdith ⁷ ∞ 🧈 (@everythingedith) June 27, 2021
If you need more arguments FOR males wearing dresses and skirts, consider the following:
- Dresses and skirts are non-constricting and very comfortable.
- Cool down by wearing them during the summer season or in hot climates.
- People have the freedom to dress as they like.
- Fabric is not sexualized; attitude is.
- Women wear pants so why can’t men wear dresses?
The bottom line is it’s OK for men to be in skirts and boys to be in dresses. It doesn’t make you less of a man if you want to rock a floral gown. The Harry Styles photoshoot has proven that you can wear a dress and be a man at the same time. Whether you choose to wear it for the night or as part of your streetwear fashion, you do you.
What are the Best Dresses for Men?
Initially, the thought of dresses for men seems to be not as complex as shopping for dresses for women. But dresses are still dresses; they have certain styles, colors and shapes that suit particular body shapes and style preferences. The same applies to skirts for men. So, when shopping for dresses for men, a word of caution: you’ll have plenty of options so choose wisely.
In terms of dresses, here are some options to consider:
- The casual dress. Cotton jersey dresses are perfect for casual affairs like drinks with friends or gallery hopping. Wear your cotton jersey dress with your favorite sandals or pair of Converse shoes and top it off with a black blazer. Here’s a pro-tip: the larger the blazer, the better.
- The lunch dress. A well-constructed white shirt-dress should be a common wardrobe staple. Cap off your look with a pair of white sneakers and a chunky bracelet.
- The work dress. An oversized patchwork dress complete with French cuffs is the best dress to work in. It looks gender-neutral and artistic.
- The party dress. Take partying to the next level with a tulle dress. Make it puff sleeve to make a louder statement. Jazz up your look with some pearls and black boots. The party dress is perfect for a night at the bar or at a festival.
- The evening dress. A silk velvet puff sleeve dress will keep you warm at night. Complete the look with a wool coat and some velvet slippers. Go for a navy blue dress for an ultimate cozy look.
In terms of skirts for men, here are your considerations:
- The blanket skirt. Think of it as American sportswear meets comfort. The blanket skirt is the skirt equivalent to your favorite pair of chinos. Brands like Rick Owens and Comme des Garcons have their range of menswear blanket skirts. The best thing about these skirts is that they resist “provocation,” giving the wearer a more solid look. They don’t look too flashy but they are tasteful. With a tailored jacket and some big boots, no one can ever question this look.
- Pristine-cut skirt. How you style it makes a big difference to this type of skirts for men. This skirt type flatters wider and stockier frames. It also looks well for both formal shirts and a wife beater shirt.
Why Did Men Stop Wearing Dresses? It’s Society’s Fault.
It’s already the 21st century and yet men wearing dresses is considered unwelcome deviance by many people in society. Despite the destruction of barriers in terms of gender and fashion, the idea of a boy in a skirt or a man rocking a dress remains ridiculous to many.
Many people — both men and women — are fearful of what others will say about them, even of their fashion choices. Currently, everyone has a say on how they present themselves to the world. With the advent of social media, people have a platform to express themselves, which is a good thing. On the other side of the spectrum, however, people also have a platform to hate what people wear or how people look.
Men who want to wear dresses are not an exception. In a world where men are expected to be masculine and where masculinity can also be defined by what you wear, a boy thinking about wearing a skirt is already considered effeminate or weak. As a result, men (both straight and gay) prefer to stick with the status quo.
But people, we live in a world without boundaries anymore. Men wearing dresses shouldn’t cause a ruckus online. Harry Styles flaunting his dress on Vogue is yet another step in normalizing the concept of “boys in skirts.” Everyone should have a right to wear what they want and if men believe they look good in dresses, they should be allowed to do so without fearing for society’s judgment.
There’s nothing better than seeing people become braver about embodying their authenticity via their clothes, especially when gender norms are a thing of the past. Harry Styles and other men in fashion are elevating the movement while showing respect to the original leaders of the “men in dresses” movement.
Harry Styles’ photoshoot with Vogue may have rocked the world of traditional fashionistas and other close-minded individuals. But he also reminded the rest of the world that men in dresses shouldn’t be a fashion faux pas. If anything, dresses and skirts can also work well for guys as they do for girls.