I once read a quote about the shared history of women. The quote stated that women had no common history because we have always been split into men’s families, men’s countries, men’s religions, and so on.

Whether you agree or not, women as a unit are frequently defined not by our inherent commonalities but by our differences from men. Usually, feminists are focused on the things men can do that women can’t. (I of course mean things women are barred from doing for cultural reasons, not things women aren’t able to accomplish.) We want to free the nipple and have equal pay for equal work and not live in constant fear of rape.

One thing women can now do is wear pants. (I’d like to pause and thank past feminists for allowing me to sit around in the jeans I’m wearing now, go for a run later in my workout pants, and curl up in my sweatpants after that.) In fact, we can wear pretty much any men’s fashion we want. They sell menswear in women’s clothing sections. I’m required to wear a tie and man’s dress shirt at my job as a server.

trousers11

This is a victory in many ways. But people have not failed to notice that a double standard has risen where we thought barriers were being broken down: It still isn’t socially acceptable for a man to show up to work in a sleek black pencil skirt. Why? Because it’s ok for women to do “male” things, but definitely NOT ok for men to want to do female-associated/feminine things. Because we associate those things with weakness. Because it is unacceptable for a man to be weak. Take for example, how revolutionary (and refreshing) it was to see the viral Facebook post of a dad letting his son dress up as Elsa for Halloween. However, one look at the comments section reveals that not everyone found the image so charming.

I remember reading books where the young, independent girl main character yearns to wear pants and run around like her brothers. We all cheer when she achieves that symbol of freedom. I’ve also seen comedies where men dressed in women’s clothes and we all laugh at how ridiculous it is.

Tyler Perry as his popular character Madea
tootsie
Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie (1982)

Like the color pink, dresses where not always so closely linked with women. There is plenty of historical and cultural precedence for men in skirts, robes, or dresses. The most common example is probably kilts. But there’s no denying that in the modern Western world, dresses are a symbol of femininity, and therefore of women.

RELATED POST: “PINK. It’s just a colour!” at thebearandthefox.com

In response, some men have pushed sartorial boundaries by wearing skirts or dresses. Kanye West, Jaden Smith and Iggy Pop spring to mind. All three have also made statements that they aren’t ashamed of wearing “women’s” clothing, that they should be able to wear whatever they want, that they aren’t wearing women’s clothing–they’re just wearing clothing. Other people in the fashion world have agreed, with one article I read calling truly androgynous fashion feminism’s next frontier.

Which brings me back to my original question: should these men be allowed to wear dresses? What I mean is, should we women allow men to use a unique part of our history and culture? If this symbol of womanhood (even if many modern women choose not to wear dresses at all) is worn by men, is that appropriation of a common female culture?

I have a confession–even though I posed this question, I’m not against men wearing dresses. I’m more wondering if I should be. Of course women have been participating in art and writing and government and military affairs and religion and social justice movements since the dawn of time. We have a legacy. It’s just that it’s often pushed aside or unrecognized. Even feminism is a relatively new concept, especially as a coherent, directed movement. Shouldn’t we claim and celebrate every aspect of our history? I don’t know if it has to be dresses, but shouldn’t there be something just for us?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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10 thoughts on “Should Men Wear Dresses?

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for posting this! I have been wearing skirts and dresses for almost two years now. All told I have no major issues with people. Some giggles and odd looks once in a while, but I’ve gotten to where I don’t even notice it anymore.

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  2. Definitely dresses & skirts should gender neutral because they have groin and crotch to deal with, because pants or shorts tend to rub in that area & make it itchy & sweaty due to the placement seams with thread left hanging.

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  3. I’m a great fan of Skirtcraft. I think there’s one great fundraiser run by One Girl called Do it in a Dress for girls’ education that would get men on board.

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  4. As a man who does wear dresses, my answer is yes, absolutely, men should wear dresses!! For me, dresses are just so incredibly comfortable to wear – my favourites are maxi dresses and sweater/jumper dresses, but I do also wear dresses in other styles/lengths as well. I love to look stylish when I am wearing a dress, and for an evening out I have some gorgeous maxi dresses which I will team up with a jacket or bolero/shrug, along with a nice pair of heels. Maybe wearing a dress does bring out my feminine side, but I just wish more men would be adventurous and try wearing a dress just to experience just how comfortable it is. And the best bit……… when I get a compliment from a woman about the dress I am wearing – it really is gratifying to find so many women who are accepting of a man wearing a dress.

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      1. I must confess that I felt very self conscious/nervous on the first few occasions when I went out wearing a dress, but it turns out that I need not have worried!!

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  5. There’s a “jokester” at work who two days ago thought it would be hilarious to send an e-mail from a co-workers account so it looked like the co-worker was saying he’d be wearing a pretty pink princess dress to an upcoming meeting. A chain of e-mails followed because the male co-worker in a dress idea was amusing to a number of my male colleagues. As the only woman in my department, I couldn’t take it. I chimed in to the e-mail chain saying that guys who are interested in feminine things are not degraded because being a woman is not degrading. I added a comment pointing out that women tend to be quite strong because we have to deal with “jokes” like the jokester made at the expense of women.

    If guys want to wear dresses, I’d call it a good thing cause in the US at least we as a people are far too uptight about too much. Men wearing dresses being something not worthy of comment would be a welcome change. As for something being just for us, I’d propose the female identity has us covered as it is our common identity and the experience that comes from having that identity that connects us to our sisters past, present and future.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I am definitely pro-dress wearing for men, and think anything we can do to de-stigmatize femininity is a win for feminism. This article made me think of some of the protests I’ve read about online, where men and boys have donned dresses and/or heels to help women protest unfair policies or stereotypes. This is the most recent one I’ve seen: http://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/these-high-school-boys-wore-dresses-to-class-in-protest-of-t#.agA1JPgV4K

    Liked by 2 people

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