February 20, 2007

Dressing Men? What a "drag"!

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There are innumerable double standards in our society for men and women. From employment and pay to expectations about sexual behavior and general conduct, men and women are viewed and judged differently. This same concept holds true for world of fashion as well.

It is a common fact that women will look at, purchase and wear men’s clothing on a regular basis. Men’s tee shirts, button downs and sweaters often appear in women’s wardrobes. As long and baggy looks become trendier, women are able to incorporate men’s clothing to attain popular fashion looks. In fact, the idea of wearing men’s clothing has become fashionable in and of itself.

In addition, the very look of men’s clothing has shown up repeatedly in women’s wear. Trousers, blazers, vests, military wear and similar items were once strictly the domain of menswear, but are now fair game for anyone. Happily, they now appear regularly on the runways and in the stores as apparel for female consumers.

Women also have the advantage of wearing a variety of different types of clothes, especially for work or business. We have the option of dressing in skirt suits, pant suits, dresses or other similar outfits. It is notable that in the past a woman wearing pants was an uncommon sight, but now they a more conventional choice than even skirts or dresses. Men, of course, are restricted to suits and, sadly, don’t have the option of wearing skirts or dresses. In fact, political pundits recently joked that a video recording a comedy sketch in which Rudolph Giuliani wears a dress may dim his presidential prospects. This is odd considering that women wearing men’s clothing is entirely socially acceptable. Doing so doesn’t make her masculine or homosexual; it makes her creative and chic as well as comfortable and cozy.

Essentially, women can get away with wearing any men’s top or accessory without seeming atypical. However, the same does not apply to men. When men wear women’s clothing it is generally considered to be a sign of homosexuality. How many times have you seen a man wearing a belly shirt or tights? Clearly, it is significantly less socially acceptable for men to wear women’s clothes.

When this rare practice does occur, it is looked at far more as an indication of sexual orientation than as a simple statement of fashion or comfort.

This notion of a double standard in women wearing men’s clothing and vice versa is especially obvious in terms of jewelry and bags. Women can easily wear men’s chunky jewelry or watches and use men’s messenger bags or briefcases.

However, the idea of a man wearing women’s jewelry, watches or purses is not as readily accepted in our society. Few men would feel comfortable wearing a delicate, feminine charm-bracelet or carrying a red patent leather clutch.

Also, men aren’t offered as wide of a variety of fashion options as women are. Thus women can wear either tight or baggy items whereas men must confine themselves to more baggy clothes unless they’re either European, homosexual or want people to assume as much. However, there is really no reason why the same standard that applies to women’s fashion shouldn’t also apply to men’s fashion.

All that aside, fashion in general is easier for women. A woman can go out in nice jeans, stilettos, a wife beater and an interesting beaded necklace and look presentable. Conversely, if a man goes out in nice jeans, loafers, a wife beater and a necklace he would have considerably more trouble getting into a club than his female counterpart. This lends women an advantage, as they can stay cool in a sweltering club by wearing a skirt and tank top while men are trapped in pants and a long-sleeved button down.

Although equality between men and women has increased and homosexuality has become more socially acceptable, there are still stigmas attached to the type of clothes that people wear, especially when they wear items designed for the opposite sex. In short, whether they are wearing stilettos, flip-flops, boots or sneakers, men and women are definitely not on equal footing in the fashion world.

  • kurt steisley

    I have to agree with this article.This double standard in fashion has to stop.A few centuries ago men wore skirts,dresses,leggings,stockings,tights,purses,lace,silk,bright coloured clothing,makeup etc which are nowadays associated with womens fashion.In regards to “gay”,I have to say that since women wear “our clothes”,no one calls them “lesbian,mannish,butch”..etc.They can wear anything they want and never be labelled as “crossdressers” at all.
    If men try to wear traditional “womens clothing” we are labelled as gay.It has nothing to do with being “gay”.It has everything to do with a form of rigid conformity to intimidate society by supporting and imposing a status quo of a narrow definition of masculinty with regards to dress,appearance and behaviour.
    There are a lot of stereotypes,cultural baggage and prejudices which are biased towards us-we are up against a lot of odds here.If we don’t organize ourselves to fight for fashion equality,then our right to wear whatever we want will be lost forever!.

  • Ian

    Dana, thanks for a reasonable and well balanced article, however I’d like to ask you how “Women’s clothes” are defined; when I buy a garment it becomes man’s clothes or does it somehow retain a mystical female quality because it was bought from the “wrong” part of the store?

    I frequently choose to wear skirts both when at home and out and about. I have had many interesting conversations with people as a result of this but a few people have argued that it is wrong for me to wear a skirt though a kilt is OK. How does a few pleats change the gender of an inanimate object? Others have said that I should not wear a kilt because I’m not a scot, that’s just narrow minded response to the conditioning they received as children and have never bothered to consider since.

    I guess the acid test for you, Dana, is whether, if you had a young son, you’d ever consider dressing him in a skirt or dress rather than the ubiquitous jeans?

    How about a follow up based on getting a few guys to spend a week dressed in skirted garments and seeing how they get on? You never know, you may be seen as the instigator od a new fashion trend 🙂

    Have fun,


  • AMM

    When we say “men can’t wear X”, don’t we really mean “few men have had the nerve to wear X”?

    At any given time, there are all sorts of “fashion rules” that are loudly declaimed by the current know-it-alls, and it seems like people everywhere feel that the sky will fall if you break one of them. Usually, it only takes a few years before a large enough group of people starts breaking one or the other of these “rules”, and suddenly there’s a whole bunch of people whose group identity lies in breaking that rule. Consider “punk,” “goth”, etc. For that matter, when I was young, one of the rules was that you didn’t wear blue jeans in polite company — they were for dirty, outdoor work only.

    So what is it that prevents men from wearing tights, or skirts? All it takes is for men to have the nerve to try it, and discover that the sky won’t fall.

    I’ve tried wearing skirts, for example (as have some of the other people who have replied to this article), and generally speaking, the people you meet generally don’t say anything at all. If you go folk or contra dancing, you’ll probably even see other men wearing skirts. The few comments I’ve gotten have been curious or positive. And it’s great for getting women to talk to you!

    I notice that NBA players are starting to wear tights, and they’re not getting laughed or booed off the court. (At least, not as long as they win games.)

    So don’t wait for the know-it-alls to change their “rules.” The only way things will change will be if men take matters into their own hands (and wardrobes.)

    Men arise! You have nothing to lose but your [fashion-] prison uniforms!

  • Pete

    I couldn’t agree more with what you say about double standards here. I have been crossdressing since I was 12 years old and have always wished I didn’t have the social stigmas against going out in public like women can. I would love to be able to go out in public wearing a skirt or a dress but because of social considerations, wear these items only at home. I am like the businessman who wears pantyhose underneath his suit pants on Wall Street. I wear women’s underwear and hosiery exclusively because they are some of the few items I can publicly wear without anyone noticing. I do admit though, that I fully agree that if enough men came out and started doing so, we could change our culture’s attitudes in a short time. I recently started wearing silicone padded panties which give my bottom a noticeably feminine appearance, and even though I initially felt self-conscious about it, thinking everybody was looking at my new “rear view”, I’ve gotten used to it and have never heard any negative comments. This helps me appreciate that enough men coming out would solve the problem.

  • maysun

    a dishdasha is masculine 🙂

  • Rizzen

    I have often wondered why it was when I walk into any clothing store, be it a Target, Hot Topic, J.C. Penny’s or whatever, the selection for mens’ clothing is always paltry in comparison in to the womens’ clothing.

    Now I can’t say I have the worlds greatest fashion sense; but one has to wonder if part of that is due to the lack of any choices for men to express themselves in this regard.

    I walked into a Target the other day and noticed about 2/3rds of the clothing were for females. Of particular note, the females had two good sided walls of bathing suites, as well as several racks with them. (Summer is coming in after all). There were single piece suits, as well as two piece suits, all with differing cuts, patterns, and colors. Were as the men had all of two small racks to bathing suites; all of which felt like they were made with the most uncomfortable material I’ve ever felt in my life! None of them were of a cut I wanted (I wanted a knee length short, it seems like something I should be able to find in the mens bathing suits, right?) A lot of them were in drab colors, and simple patterns. They’re bathing suits, they should be in bright colors and bold patterns! Give us a choice in the cut too, if a guy wants to wear something like a speedo, let ’em. If they want to wear a short short, or a long short, let ’em, but if the only choice is the same mid-thigh cut, I feel limited.

    “Cropped (belly) shirts are gross on guys”, why is that? Its okay for a guy to not wear a shirt at all, but if you only cover part of your body its gross? That doesn’t make sense to me. Oh, but its “okay” if you’re working out. What!? Why only then!?

    “You must wear pants (or shorts)”, the Greeks and Romans wore togas, the Scoots have Kilts, and those not much more than a specific type of skirt/dress, and they didn’t have a problem with it, why should we?

    Now a female skirt just isn’t going to fit a male the same, our hips are built differently; but this shouldn’t prevent manufacturers from producing skirts specifically tailored to a man’s body. I know that I’ve seen more of these lately (some of the look really cool actually), and I hope to see more guys wearing skirts made specifically for them.

    I often feel jealous that girls are allowed to flaunt their bodies, and express themselves with their fashion; if a guy does anything like this he’s considered a weirdo or gay. I recently started wearing more “outrageous” clothing because I really felt that if anyone gives a hoot about me, they’ll come and talk to me, and get to know me. I’ve had way more positive experiences with this than bad. In fact, I can’t even think I’ve had a bad one yet. I suspect that anyone who thinks that my dressing is grossing them out they’re steering clear of me, and that’s their loss, not mine.

  • Anonymous


  • v walker

    it is so true.. mens clothing needs a real shake up, more variety, tight tops, loose tops, short and long jackets, kilts, leggins, tights, heeled shoes, yes remember the 70’s, men had heeled shoes then!, that’s retro now I guess.

    It only needs the majority of men to do it and it will be accepted, it happened when men started wearing ear rings!, no one takes a second look or calls them gay now!

    So please get a life and get some new fashion out there.

  • Jeff Bona

    HI my name is Jeff, I am a 49yr old str8 married man who has had a passion for boots since I was 12. I found when I was in my 30’s I had the confidence to begin wearing boots, everyday! First it began with wearing fancy cowboy boots, always with my pants tucked inside the boots, Some look for a guy who has never been on a horse lol Later as years went on, began adding more extreme pairs. Showing up on public wearing platform boots and womens boots. When I say womens boots, I mean as extreme as you can get. Thigh highed spike heelede boots, go-go boots with chunky 5 inch heels and side zips to the knee. I get alot attention as you all might image but thats fine.
    Point is, life is tooo short, just be yourself, live the way you all want! 🙂
    Jeff Bona, Selbyville, DE

  • As a 60+ married, heterosexual male I find female clothing to be much more interesting and fun to wear. The only male clothing I ever wear is underwear, a few shirts and hats (quite often berets from the ladies dept.). All of my other clothing and footwear comes from the “other side”.

    I only wear female pants and shoes (mostly Mary Jane’s, thus my name) and socks. They look much better and fit better, I believe. Very few people are the wiser but I do get many, many smiles, especially from all the young women I meet out in public and I have to believe it’s because they like and approve of my “look” whether or not they know exactly why!

    I have quite a few short pleated skirts and skorts that I also wear when the weather is good and my friends have become very comfortable with my dressing choices. In fact, they are often disappointed if I don’t wear a skirt or mini-kilt!

    Mary Jane Boy

  • Brent

    Well, nicely stated and opined, a well-balanced examination of the notions and ‘standards’ that our Western culture has adopted and become entrenched in.

    At the risk of sounding sexist, frankly one of the problems is that women simply are shaped differently. This is but only ONE of the reasons for the much greater ‘variety’ of clothing styles and designs. And it is also a bigger problem as well, women then must determinine if this or that looks right, hangs or flows right, isn’t too baggy, etc. With males, the male figure tends to be very ‘standard’ and of a highly uniform shape. (We are built more like tree-trunks!) This is one of the reasons for the more ‘limited’ range of fashion styles for men. And also the reason why men must then pay extra attention towards the creation of different styles that will actually fit and ‘hang’ right on the male physiology.

    The fundamental crux of the issue here really points to what our culture has determined as ‘gender’, rather then sex. The feminist (or female equality) movement naturally has generated a bit of a backlash or ‘vacuum’, leaving men somewhat puzzled, disoriented, and likely a bit ‘left behind’…

    The problem is confounded when sexual values or ‘taboos’ become associated with styles and implied meanings.

    So then, women in pantsuits do not generate nearly the degree of ‘social distress’ than men in dresses… And in our rather ‘non-inclusive, close-minded’ Western mindset, difference is equated with distrust, disdain and the attitude of ‘why would you NOT want to look like us??? Is there something WRONG with you?”

    Mostly, I feel, due to the intrinsic male INSECURITY that our Western culture has generated based upon income and earning potential. The concept of the ‘working man’s uniform’ really came about during the industrial revolution where the men went off to the factories and ‘offices’, and the suit and tie became a way to socially ‘level the playing field’. It is THIS playing field that has created the social institution which dissuades males from ever stepping outside the ‘box’ or exploring more creative, expressive and frankly more COMFORTABLE ways of covering oneself.

    And we must also realize that any ‘movements’ or ‘actions’ which appear to challenge that social institution are going to be met with cautious distrust rather than inclusive progress.

    There are, however, signs that at least SOME change is occurring — the rising popularity of the male kilt for example. This classic male clothing item is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, making it’s appearance in various modernized formats. Likewise, particularly among the younger set, snug pants, tops and close-fitting styles ‘normally’ found among the female fashions are being adopted by young males — particularly close fitting ‘girls’ stretch jeans.

    We are at a crossroads in Western culture. As we find ourselves entering into the whole ‘globalization’ process, we MUST examine ourselves and our motives in order to see if certain ‘standards’ are outdated, and would the adoption of more ‘flexible’ options only allow people to feel more expressive, rather than appear as a challenge to the ‘established’ insecure status quo.

  • Johnieheel

    What happened to my post? “Men in Heels”

  • jandes

    hi, id just like to say that there are a lot of men who wear pantyhose and shorts in public.i’m one of them and find it quite comfortable.i even keep my legs shaven.
    some companies now make pantyhose for men but they are only available online.

  • I was just directed to this article today… almost a year after it’s original publication. I felt obliged to add a comment regarding the author’s assumption that any male that wears anything feminine is automatically gay. It’s a common misconception but I would like to correct it so that the misconception is removed from collective mindset. The percentage of men who cross dress to one degree or another is estimated to be in the 5-10% range. The overwhelming majority (90%+)of these are heterosexual. The ‘problem’ is that the gay ‘Drag’ contingent are the only reference point that most people have with ‘men in feminine clothes’. The cross dresser is behind closed doors because he knows the social stigma he will face by appearing in public. He will even hide it from his spouse because she will first ask “Are you gay? Do you want the operation?” Things seem to be changing slowly with the assistance of the internet. Instead of believing that they are alone and freaks, cross dressers are finding they have lots of company and if they do a little searching, can find thousands of personal pages that tell stories much like their own and support groups to get them out of the closet and out the door. Please put the ‘Drag” idea where it belongs…. in the gay community alone. They were gay first and then got into drag. The cross dresser is hetero and likes the styles, textures, colors, and multitude of options available in women’s clothing. To make it socially acceptable to go out and participate in society, he adds the wig and prosthetic breasts. Many would cheerfully just wear the skirt and heels but then you’d be the center of attention anywhere you went. Society really needs to loosen up on this one. 🙂


  • Toby

    I agree. I am totally hetero, but I love the styles and textures of women’s clothes. Also, I am about 5’9″ and thin. I don’t think it is so much “dressing as a woman”, rather it is choosing clothes and a style that flatters your figure. I love to pair low rise, boot cut Levi’s with a sweater and a pair of 3 inch heel pointy-toe black boots for weekends. On me, it just looks right. Why should I wear baggy khakis and a plaid shirt just because I am a guy? I have had women tell me for years “I wish I had legs like yours”. I look good in heels and figure flattering jeans. In fact, I was looking at a new loft and the agent showing me around complemented on my boots and said “you walk so well in them” and then talked about how she struggled to wear heels. And yes, I gave her some free advice. I really think that women could be a great help. I really don’t care if some jerk guy makes a rude comment, but when a woman complements me the way she would complement another woman, it really builds my comfort level to do nothing more than wear what looks good, stylish and, yes, sexy. Thanks…and I would love to hear some other opinions.

  • Bootylicious

    Cool story, keep it up, you’re an ambassador. I have a normal male figure which is just about right for the one item that perhaps doesn’t make me look better or worse (that is in the eye of the beholder after all): heeled boots. They just make me feel really good and confident and that shouldn’t be hard to understand but apparently is for most people. I started out with 5″ stiletto kneehighs but that is only fun in private for a while. So I worked my way down to a pair of boots I dared wearing to work last winter: Western style, 3″ underslung heels, long pointy toes, Italian black nappa leather up to the knee.
    A few stares here and there and an occasional comment was all I got, not bad. My goal this winter is wearing them again but this time without still feeling a bit apprehensive. I want it to become natural to present myself this way. Everything else about my wardrobe is pure masculine, I just love the feeling of wearing these cool edgy boots that really spice up my life, but you probably know what I mean. The way a piece of clothing can make you feel is personal and more important than how others think it looks on you.