June 9, 2021

"For the 30-ish fashion stylist Mickey Freeman, who has eschewed trousers for some six years, a kilt is a tool for flouting societal constrictions on what constitutes Black male identity."

"'Most people have an internal directive of how clothes play into a man’s masculinity,' Mr. Freeman wrote in an email. Guys looking to loosen 'the internal shackles' of gender presentation may benefit from giving a test run to wearing a garment created without two legs and a zipper."

From "The Boys in Their Summer Dresses Gender fluidity enters its next phase as men increasingly step out in skirts and frocks" by Guy Trebay (in the NYT)

The headline is a play on a famous short story title, "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses." The article does talk about men wearing summer dresses, but I just want to say that a kilt is not a dress, and a kilt is not "a tool for flouting societal constrictions." A kilt is a very traditional item of men's clothing.

Now, it's possible that "a kilt is a tool for flouting societal constrictions on what constitutes Black male identity," but that has to do with a black man challenging convention by wearing something from the traditional clothing of white men, not about playing with gender. It's like saying a dashiki is a tool for flouting societal constrictions on what constitutes white male identity.

By the way, Freeman seems to be black, so he may be able to talk about "the internal shackles of gender presentation." But I recommend eschewing slavery metaphors like that, especially when you're just talking about your feelings of being restricted. Your shyness, insecurity, and inhibitions are not like slavery, and as hyperbole, they're in bad taste.


Ann Althouse said...

K writes:

"Calling a kilt with a Scottish family pattern on it, "a tool for flouting societal constrictions on what constitutes Black male identity," is an example of offensive cultural appropriation. It's a kind of silly offensiveness to think of a kilt as a "manly" skirt - it just shows a person all wrapped up in themselves, a person who knows nothing at all about Scotland and doesn't care."

Ann Althouse said...

Alex writes:

"The skirt and dress have been a component of men's fashions for thousands of years, so I don't find the notion of wearing one to be that strange. Shadiversity has a good video on the subject of medieval men's dresses (https://youtu.be/lGKknZgnVJ0). Personally, I've considered sewing myself some type of shendyt-like garment to wear around the house when working from home. I've found that it's often more comfortable than jeans or even shorts in the summer.

"The key, of course, is that such clothing was often distinctly masculine, as opposed to simply wearing a woman's garment. They could be cut differently, constructed of different materials, and often involved masculine accessories. In other words, they weren't meant to "loosen the shackles of gender construction" at all, but played into the very notions of gender and class identity."

Ann Althouse said...

"I've found that it's often more comfortable than jeans or even shorts in the summer."

Yes, the amount of fabric that comes together in the crotch area of pants is extensive and you notice it in hot weather. You can get a lot of aeration with a skirt.

Ann Althouse said...

lordsomber writes:

"As our esteemed hostess has no doubt noticed herself, "Black guy with kilt," "White guy with dreadlocks," and "Co-ed of indeterminate gender who makes damn sure it stays indeterminate" are all spaces on the College Town Bingo card."

Meade said...

Just wear your pants backwards. Problem solved.

Ann Althouse said...

Iain writes:

As my name suggests, I have a fair dose of Scots ancestry. And I have worn kilts since I was a kid. I got married in one, and I'll probably be buried in one. I've never attended a black-tie function in trousers, and never will. And outside the context of a marching band, women don't wear kilts.

So thanks for recognising that the kilt is men's wear. It's not a skirt, it's a kilt. Made differently, cut differently, pleated differently. If you look at a properly made kilt, you will see that the pleats are folded such that the sett of the tartan is unbroken across the pleats. That takes attention to detail. I once took one of my kilts to a local tailor for repair, and he looked at it and, stunned, said "this is hand made!" Of course it is.

I've worn kilts at all times of the year, but they aren't always very comfortable in the summer. Yes, there's no bunching of fabric in awkward places, but the fabric is wool, and there's a lot of it. So it can get pretty toasty under there in hot weather. One may, as you suggest, "get a lot of aeration," but it's still hot air! The kilt can be surprisingly warm in winter, what with all that wool, but the aeration in January can be chilly.

The kilt evolved from the plaid, or "belted plaid," which was more or less an all purpose form of attire for highlanders. It was a big piece of fabric worn over the shoulder and tied with a belt of some kind at the waist, hanging to the knees. It was easily used as clothing, rainwear, or bedroll, and served well the needs of men living, working, and fighting in a harsh climate. Over time the kilt evolved as a specific garment, and the plaid evolved to be something worn predominantly in military or band uniforms. The evolution of tartan is a different story.

Ann Althouse said...

Alastair writes:

I know a little bit about wearing a kilt. First of all my dad was born and grew up in North Uist in the Hebrides where his primary language was Gaelic. I used to visit my grandparents and uncle every summer in Inverness where they moved. Occasionally I would see my grandmother wearing a kilt but was reminded by other relatives that traditionally women were not supposed to wear the tartan! You see lots of pictures of Scot's women wearing white dresses with a sash of tartan over their shoulder usually secured by a clan brooch, not many wearing a kilt. Queen Elizabeth has probably changed that quite a bit since then.

When I was 12, I learned to play the bagpipes as part of a boys pipe band. Although by that time, I was living in a hot temperate climate, we would often perform in full highland dress. Try playing the bagpipes (a very physical instrument) wearing a heavy kilt, sporran, tunic and plaid in 85 degree weather and 90% humidity. Our band was very popular and hardly a week went by where we did not perform publicly. The cleaning bills for the uniforms were substantial!

At each parade I would ride my bicycle, wearing my kilt, to the school where the band was based (about 2 miles). Yes I had a few wolf whistles!! It was quite a palaver getting the pipes tuned and getting us dressed in full regalia. After the parade I would ride home dressed in full highland dress somehow balancing my pipe box on the handlebars. I wish I had a picture of that.

As young teenagers, we knew how vulnerable a kilt would make us so we would wear bathing suits under the kilt - surfer jams were very popular. The correct wear, however, was something called "bare balls". I went on a parade suitably undressed only once and never again. Let's just say it was very uncomfortable. I was fortunate during summers to get a few gigs playing at hotels when I got older - it helped to pay my university fees. When you wear a highland uniform, you quickly discover that women are fascinated and attracted to men in uniforms but their main interest was that inevitable question of what do you wear under the kilt? I would never consider asking a woman what she wore under her dress but women felt free to ask us that question - such a double standard! One of my colleagues had a simple answer and would ask for her hand and place it on his knee and then say, "Go higher." It never worked.

Occasionally we would come across men who would give us a hard time and call us sissies. The idiots hadn't noticed that all of us carried knives in our socks, a skean dhu and some carried a dirk. All of it was very decorative but still very functional. The moral of course is never mess with a piper especially one dressed in full highland regalia.

Ann Althouse said...

Caroline writes:

When I was a child (younger than eight) my dad wore caftans. My dad was not a light type of person and was best described as rigid. He would joke about being hip though he didn’t use the phrase hip, maybe “with it”.

We did not have a lot of money and my mom made the caftans. With the type of fabric she used there is a strong possibility that she used sheets. The one I most vividly remember was a vibrant purple. He only wore them in the evenings during the summer. This was during the early 70’s and we lived in inland LA County without air conditioning so it makes sense.

Everything old is new again.