There is philosophy all around us. Take Hegel’s ideas of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. For a long time, women were oppressed (in many ways, they are still the lesser sex), and then things changed, and woman could finally wear the pants in the house, also literally. So if that was the thesis (patriarchy) being challenged by the antithesis (equality), I think the synthesis we have now arrived at is quite confusing, and somewhat anticlimactic.
Let me not taint the topic with my views already. Instead, let me ask you to close your eyes and picture Indian men wearing skirts. No, this isn’t one of those ‘don’t think about monkeys’ kind of brain-teasing koans, I honestly want you to think about men wearing skirts.
There are a few exceptions which you aren’t allowed to include, number one being kilts —discard the traditional Scottish garb. Dhotis and mundus are also out. Next, cancel any non-binary gender-conforming groups (no, don’t cancel them like GenZ intends it, just remove them from the list of imageries permitted for men in skirts.) Also, let’s not include Ranvir Singh — that guy will try anything on once and make it look good for eternity.
Let’s leave all these instances out. I am talking your typical cisgender office-going water-cooling-vicinity-bitching abusing-Indian-cricket-team heterosexuals. Sorry if that sounds stereotyped, but it is intended for effect. Otherwise, imagine the guy on the Mills & Boons cover in a floral skirt as he hugs the lady of his dreams in a gentle but firm 3/4th caress from behind.
What about men in uniform walking past with their arms cocked, the entire battalion in gorgeous pencil skirts that rise and fall from side to side in silent rhythm as they stomp by? Still not visualising it? How about James Bond ordering a Vesper Martini in a sharp suit with a tight hugging knee-length skirt, all bespoke, of course? And let’s not even bother with Harley gangs trying to get over their steel-steeds while grappling with the ergonomics of tucking in a skirt to remain aerodynamic and mean-looking at 120kmph.
Men and skirts: would a straight guy, especially one here in India, feel brave/brazen/stylishly at ease enough to try one on, and make them a regular part of his attire? Once again, in no way is this to belittle other genders who are completely at home with this idea, I am merely musing aloud here: would I ever wear a skirt?
Also, would men’s skirts need to be designed differently to accommodate for the crotch bulge or is that just my fragile male ego blowing things out of proportion yet again? And if all these stylistic quandaries were accounted for, would I feel comfortable enough stepping out in one?
Well, ‘comfort’ could be a good word to start with; could I be at ease hanging out with my friends, just being ‘one of the boys’? Then there is that other sense of comfort — an important one to consider — I mean if one’s only other option were to be a pair of skinny jeans, maybe any alternate garment is better than those crotch-choking pieces of clothing, even a skirt.
In the West, this concept has had a slow start but it has surely begun. Harry Styles, and more recently Brad Pitt, were seen sporting skirts, and I think we are one Holly-hottie away before this becomes a ‘thing’. Indian actors are mostly too scared to draw outside the lines of the paint-by-virtue image of ‘mamma’s good boys’, lest they lose their fandom. As for cricketers and athletes (especially in the wake of our stunning Commonwealth performance), I don’t think a skirt is a functionally very efficient thing to don while trying to hit a bouncer for six or putting the scissor choke hold on your opponent. And to take the primitive but slippery slope argument, if men start wearing skirts, then what’s stopping them from wearing thongs while playing beach volleyball?
At one level, it also makes me wonder if my cringe towards skirts is just a byproduct of masculine conditioning over the ages. And, as always, I have the example of women to go about how they have handled similar situations with ease, aplomb and class over generations. The pants, for example, were an exclusive preserve of men, the sartorial symbol of manhood till as recently as a century ago. And in the 1920s came Coco Chanel, who turned the notion on its head. Wielding the jackhammer of her designer ingenuity, she demolished the gender stereotype of pants being exclusively masculine. Women have since taken to the comfort of pants without any of the angst and drama that men stress about when contemplating the skirt. The male species, it is fair to say, inhabit a different planet.
In India, where hetero-virility is still worn like a symbol of pride and anything remotely effeminate is scoffed and sidelined, the insecurities stemming from the potential social stigma of wearing a skirt as a straight man would be too strong to allow us to even contemplate this without getting our knickers in a twist. Sorry, I meant boxer briefs.