Skirts, Kilts, Paenulas and Togas
Very few American men have ever worn skirts. Roman men never wore pants--until the fifth century, when "German trousers" were banned from the Imperial palace. Upper class Romans in the fifth century wore paenulas over their tunics, long gowns that were embroidered with the signs of their office if they were officials, or of their rank.
Maybe it is of more than academic interest that while women can wear pants on any occasion, men do not wear skirts, or gowns, and only some men, claiming Scottish descent, think it's acceptable to wear "kilts" under special circumstances.
Parenthetically, Romans did not wear togas in the fifth century, except in official portraits.
But why is men's clothing so constrained today?
Look at the history of pants: the European version came from the horse nomads who conquered Europe in the fifth century; they were the uniform of the mounted warrior. After the Roman Empire's ignominious defeat by German cavalry at Adrianople in 378, in which the sitting Emperor was killed, his army destroyed, the prestige and "manliness" of pants was immeasurably enhanced, so much so that the above-mentioned imperial ban was decreed, in fear of German influence. Pants were the uniform of the barbarian warrior.
Yet, now women can wear pants. When I was a child, girls were not permitted in school except in
or dresses; boys wore pants.
Until the 20th century, many men around the world did not wear pants. In India Hindus wore dhotis, or, if they were Muslim they wore pyjamas, or along with South Indian men, they wore lungies; in Greece and the Balkans they wore short kilts called fustanella, in Japan they wore long ones called hakama under their kimonos. In China, men wore long gowns (the chang-pao, and shen-i) or skirts or pants, (the pien-fu); in Indonesia they wore the beskap, a long kilt and tunic, and male and female wedding dresses are similar; in much of Africa and South America the indigenous people wore breechclouts, or little at all; in Polynesia they wore pareus, and in Scotland they wore kilts, really just skirts folded over and buckled. Soldiers in the Roman infantry wore metal-clad kilts, the Celts in battle wore nothing at all except their woad.
I wear pants when it's cold; I wear a skirt when it's warm, ones of my own design; they're designed for a man, not a woman. I first began to wear them after I'd worn a Scottish kilt and realized how comfortable it was: nothing to constrict a man between the legs. I still sometimes wear kilts in the Fall; they're very warm. I also wear lungies in hot weather.
This essay is really about the lack of imagination of "modern" men's clothing, and about the role of conquest in clothing fashion. Men's clothing epitomizes both: pants and shirts, and suits and jackets, nothing else. The take-over of pants/trousers especially in parts of the world where they weren't worn comes from an unconscious assumption that the latter are the clothing of the conqueror, of the top dogs, of Imperial and colonial men, those who lorded it over the "lesser breeds without the law," "modern men."
Perhaps without realizing it, the conversion of women to wearing pants was coterminous with the rise of feminism. Now some women only wear skirts or dresses for "occasions," which often means when they want to attract male attention. Otherwise, they wear pants, to assert their equality, or invulnerability. Skirts do make you vulnerable.
But what if men could wear them, or leggings, kilts, gowns, togas, even? Why not? Why should men be singularly limited to pants? Why can Hillary Clinton campaign in pants or skirts, but John Edwards is limited to pants? Women now can even wear suits, with jackets and ties (suitably tailored), so why can't men wear dresses, also suitably tailored (call them robes or tunics if the word 'dress' is too gender-colored)?
This may seem a long way from declining empires, but maybe it's not. If men can wear skirts, they are as vulnerable as women when they wear them. They are also less likely to swagger as conquerors, less likely to automatically assume that they can lord it over others, more likely to think of ways to live peaceably with others. They still have testosterone, but, believe me: it has a somewhat different focus.
I'm not saying that conquerors always wore pants, but it is part of the modern mind-set, associated with western dominance, going all the way back to the fifth century, but especially to the colonial period, when Europeans and Americans lorded it over the rest of the world. That era is long gone, or should be. Iraq is a throw-back.
Picture George W in a skirt. No don't, but perhaps we would be a whole lot better off today if sometimes he wore one.
If men wore skirts, or could wear whatever they wanted, they could put more of their energy into dress, into expressing themselves, and less into controlling other people and other countries.