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Feb 04 2013

Runway Recap: The Great Kilt Freakout, Or, Gender Normativity is Boring and Stupid (UPDATED)

So… kilts? Really, Project Runway judges? You’re going to twist your knickers and wring your hands and fall about like fainting goats… over kilts?

Okay. First things first. Basic assessment of this episode: Not bad. This episode focused a lot more on the actual design process than the show has for many a season, and it was the better for it. And so far, the “team” concept seems to be working: there was a lot of collaboration in the workroom this week, and both the designs and the entertainment value were better for it. I basically agree with Tom and Lorenzo: the show this week was a little dull in spots, but that wasn’t because of the team structure. It was mostly because the challenge itself was a little dull. “Make waitstaff uniforms for a ping-pong nightclub, in a standard, sporty, casual-wear style.” Yawn. True, in the real world, this is what design is often like — you often have to execute for a particular client within fairly narrow restrictions, and sometimes those restrictions are very narrow indeed and you can’t get very creative. But I hope the designers get some more interesting challenges soon. There really wasn’t much they could do with this one. (Pics of all the looks at Tom and Lorenzo.)

So. Okay. Now to what I really want to get into today:

What the fuck was up with the judges getting nearly hysterical over the concept of men in kilts?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 2 Kilt 1

First of all: This is not a new thing. Kilts for men date back many centuries. Modern Utilikilts for men date back over a decade. They are not, in fact, skirts, despite what the judges kept saying through their giggles and gasps. They are an old form of menswear, and in the modern international-city fashion landscape, they’re just not that freaky. Unusual, sure, but hardly unheard of.*

But second, and more to the point: So what? Yes, in our rigidly gendered culture, kilts will be read by some uninformed people as skirts, and will therefore be somewhat surprising when men wear them. So fucking what?

Tilda-Swinton-W-Magazine-August-2011Fashion designers for women have been playing with androgyny for decades. Centuries, actually. In the world of high fashion, androgyny is a very common way for a woman to cut out a space for herself: whether it’s wearing suits on the red carpet, or cropping her hair short (remember the buzz it generated when Emma Watson cut her hair?). And in the non-high-fashion world of ordinary women’s wear, adapting masculine elements is pervasive: from the recent trendiness of the military look, to the ubiquity of blue jeans and the women’s suit. In the fashion world, androgyny for women is so commonplace, it’s not even particularly shocking any more.

So why is it that creating a more androgynous look for men — a look that’s basically male and masculine, but with feminine elements or elements that will be read by many as feminine — is enough to get seasoned fashion professionals fanning themselves like they’d just seen the 2 a.m. stage show at a Berlin sex club? (Including Susan “Rocky Horror Picture Show” Sarandon, who should know better?)

Yes, I know why. It’s because maleness is considered more valuable than femaleness. It’s considered natural — if somewhat outré and daring — for women to want to look more like men. Of course women would want to aspire to look more like men! Who wouldn’t want to be more masculine, more like a man? Men are awesome! Men are how people should be! [/sarcasm] But when men aspire to look more like women, it undercuts gender normativity far more than women looking more like men. Androgyny for men breaks out of standard gender roles, in basically the same way that androgyny for women does… but it also shatters the notion that maleness is always more desirable than femaleness.

Well, good. The notion that maleness is always more desirable than femaleness is fucked up for everybody. And gender normativity is boring and stupid. Dressing in a way that goes along with the standard expectations for your gender is entirely your business, just as dressing in a way that doesn’t go along with the standard expectations for your gender is entirely your business. But gender normativity, the idea that all men should look and act a certain way and all women should look and act a certain way, and the idea that it’s reasonable and even good to put pressure on people of all genders to conform to these roles… it’s boring, and it’s stupid.

If the judges thought the male waitstaff at the nightclub would rebel… fine. Give them the option of kilts or pants, like they might give the female waitstaff a choice between skirts or pants. But insisting that male waitstaff could never be asked to wear uniforms so “outrageous”? Hating on the kilt so hard, they put it in the bottom?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 2 Kilt 2

I liked the kilt. It was well-constructed, and fit the model beautifully. Making it out of denim was clever: by referencing jeans, it made the kilt both more modern and more familiar. And the moderately androgynous aspect was hot. Since the rest of the look was pretty classically masculine, it actually read as, “I’m confident enough in my masculinity to not feel like it’s threatened by wearing something that some people will read as a skirt. Besides, my legs are muscular and awesome.” I did think putting the “Balls Are Our Business” logo right in the center of the waistband — i.e., right over the model’s anatomical balls — was a bit crass. But that’s an easy fix.

And more to the point: I thought the kilt was, by far, the most interesting, inventive look on the runway this week. Every single other designer took the challenge of “Make waitstaff uniforms for a ping-pong nightclub, in a standard, sporty, casual-wear style,” and made… well, standard sporty casual wear, either more successfully or less so, none of it particularly interesting. Matthew’s kilt was the one piece on the runway that took the concept of “standard sporty casual-wear,” and brought something unexpected to the table. I could see not giving it the win — if the client doesn’t think it’s right, then the client doesn’t think it’s right, and you haven’t won. But sticking it in the bottom — with an extensive session of adolescent giggles and gasps about how it was so “provocative” — was ridiculous. It showed a rigidity about gender that I find disappointing in anyone, and that seasoned fashion professionals should be way, way past.

*****

*UPDATE: In a comment, Giliell, professional cynic says this:

OK, I love kilts.
Kilts are freaking awesome.
Kilts are sexy.
They are, in fact, skirts.
Please give me one argument why a kilt is fundamentally different from a skirt that does not go back to “but skirts are for women and men don’t wear skirts”.
I think the firm denial that a kilt or indeed any kind of male garment that is constructed much like a typical female garment is indeed like said female garment is a sign of gendernormatism where women may aspire to wear male stuff (like trousers, oh the abomination), but men are never ever lowered to wear femal stuff (like skirts. It’s a kilt!)

I think this is a really good point. Most of what I’ve read/ heard from kilt-wearers (who’ve said anything about it at all) is that kilts aren’t skirts, so I was passing that along. But now that Giliell mentions it, I can’t offhand think of a good answer. (A couple of people here have suggested that the difference between a kilt and a skirt is the sporran, but I don’t think so: Utilikilts don’t have sporrans [although they do have a stylized closure in front outlined in snaps to represent it], and they’re still clearly identified as kilts.) Thoughts, anyone?

64 comments

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  1. 1
    Dunc

    As a Scot, I’d say that a kilt shouldn’t normally be pleated at the front… And that’s really a bit short too. But so freaking what?

    You should send those people over here to Edinburgh on a day when we’ve got a rugby international on – the whole city’s full of men in kilts, and there’s nothing androgynous about it.

  2. 2
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    OK, I love kilts.
    Kilts are freaking awesome.
    Kilts are sexy.

    They are not, in fact, skirts, despite what the judges kept saying through their giggles and gasps. They are an old form of menswear, and in the modern international-city fashion landscape, they’re just not that freaky.

    They are, in fact, skirts.
    Please give me one argument why a kilt is fundamentally different from a skirt that does not go back to “but skirts are for women and men don’t wear skirts”.
    I think the firm denial that a kilt or indeed any kind of male garment that is constructed much like a typical female garment is indeed like said female garment is a sign of gendernormatism where women may aspire to wear male stuff (like trousers, oh the abomination), but men are never ever lowered to wear femal stuff (like skirts. It’s a kilt!)

  3. 3
    rq

    A bit short? Nah. I’d like to see that in mini-kiltskirt length. :)
    I would love to go to a sporty bar and see the waitstaff sporting kilts. It would be completely refreshing, not to mention extremely nice, to ogle a few manly legs for a change, instead of the usual womanly fare. Also, the confidence required to pull off such a uniform with elegance and panache (is that an oxymoron?) is very attractive.

  4. 4
    Timothy Brannan

    I guess it goes without saying but these judges have never been to a game convention (like Gen Con), a Renascence Faire or reenactment. Men in kilts everywhere. Utilikilt is at Gen Con every year in fact.

    The big difference between a kilt and a skirt from what I know is that a kilt has a Sporran or a money bag in front.

  5. 5
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Yes, I know why. It’s because maleness is considered more valuable than femaleness.

    Apparently, more vulnerable as well. Maleness or masculinity is such a fragile thing. It can be broken by this piece of cloth.

  6. 6
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @Giliell:

    What Timoty said:

    The big difference between a kilt and a skirt from what I know is that a kilt has a Sporran or a money bag in front.

    Although some skirts have pockets. And you could always wear a fannypack.

  7. 7
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @F:

    +1

  8. 8
    markdowd

    In the words of the great actor:

    “It’s not a dress, it’s a KILT! Sicko!”
    –Jim Carrey

  9. 9
    Ysanne

    these judges have never been to a game convention (like Gen Con), a Renascence Faire or reenactment.

    Or a goth/black/power metal concert.
    WTF is un-masculine about a kilt, when women in low-slung cargo pants are considered feminine, and the maleness of men in ridiculously flower-patterned shirts and cotton-candy pastel-coloured pants plus loafers (and, admittedly, a tan and ample amounts of chest hair) is beyond questioning?
    Also, this is entirely selfish and the complete equivalent of men telling womenI to keep up wearing heels, but yes, men’s knees and legs can be beautiful, so if a guy wants to show them off, I’d like him to have many ways to do so confidently.

  10. 10
    bulhakov

    I think the skirt dilema has a lot to do with how our brains perceive gender from the earliest age. A study of kindergarten children (I’m sorry I can’t find the source right now, but I’ll try to post it later) showed that girls defined what was feminine more through “doing/wearing whatever most other girls do/wear” while boys defined masculinity as “doing/wearing what girls don’t do/wear” , with the boys having a much stronger tendency to ostracize someone that broke the rule.
    That is why it is generally possible for women to accept wearing male clothes, but still feel secure in their gender, while for the male perception of gender it’s still not OK to wear feminine things without feeling/being excluded from the male part of the population.

  11. 11
    Nepenthe

    World’s ugliest (and most offensive) sporran.

  12. 12
    bubba707

    Funny. I live in a small town an wear a kilt now and then just because I feel like it. I do get an odd look now and then but mostly it’s a nonevent, no big deal at all. The panel breaking out in giggle fits seems to indicate they ain’t as adult and sophisticated as they want to believe.

  13. 13
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    A study of kindergarten children (I’m sorry I can’t find the source right now, but I’ll try to post it later) showed that girls defined what was feminine more through “doing/wearing whatever most other girls do/wear” while boys defined masculinity as “doing/wearing what girls don’t do/wear” , with the boys having a much stronger tendency to ostracize someone that broke the rule.

    Funny thing, when I brought my kids to kindergarten this morning, three of the boys (ehm, not mine…) were sent back to the dress-up and toy kitchen corner where there’s a carpet. The high-heels made too much fucking noise on the regular floor. Two of them sported a gorgeous dress…

    So, yeah a sporran. Totally not something a skirt might ever have. Or that a kilt might not not have and always had…

  14. 14
    sueinnm

    I’ve also been used to seeing kilts on men at SF/fantasy cons for many years. At first I tittered, but then got over it and t thought it was neat. And the thing I thought was … these guys (most of whom did not have the legs of the guy above) really aren’t worried about their masculinity. And I thought, “bravo!”, because these days I’m really into being confident enough in who you are/gender identification/preference that you don’t have to prove it constantly.

    In all fairness, I was a bit of a hypocrite the first time I saw men in kilts. I rejected skirts at an early age because I really felt the “expectation” of wearing skirts/dresses was based on the historical premise that women were supposed to stay home and keep house, when I wanted to ride out on my destrier with a sword or fight bad guys as a super hero. (This is a reason I hate the symbols on bathroom stalls. Hey, that figure in the skirt isn’t me!) I have always been drawn to “masculine” looking clothing, but I was also a gender-bending kid back in the 60′s because I hated dolls of any kind, never had teen crushes, played at super heroes (male) and Mr. Spock, and found “girl stuff” pretty boring.

    Now I’ve been married for 27 years to a man who has no issues with his masculinity, whose closest friends are women (some very close in every way but physical), who is a feminist and atheist and feels weird when he sees me in anything but pants. To this day–in addition to feeling that skirts/dresses don’t work well with my wide, stocky body–I only wear skirts in summer when they’re cooler, and then only maxis. Though “fat,” I also like to choose clothing that I feel flatters my body. I feel comfortable in the more masculine styles, and because of my early failure to be “feminine” in a world where girls were supposed to look/act a certain way to be acceptable, the word still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I still get images of girls in pink with ribbons in their hair.

    Guess I gotta get over that and “reclaim” the word. But then again, I don’t feel I have to. We should all feel free to adopt the gender labels we feel comfortable with, and I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable with that one. Same with “masculine.” I’t's all a continuum, and some day I hope society will recognize that.

    I know I’m covering familiar ground and am rambling … forgive me, but I’ve just found out how to log in without using my full name (WordPress itself will never let me set up an account) and I couldn’t the amazing amount of crap feminist/woman bloggers have been getting. so this is my first comment here, after being a lurker for a long time. And my brain is dead … I am a full-time novelist and am trying to finish a book, which has been my whole world for the past month (not in a positive sense.) I need a little human contact, even if it means me rambling on in a ridiculous manner …

  15. 15
    Gregory in Seattle

    Kilts have a flat front, not pleated; and it would have looked better to have the grain of the fabric’s weave vertical to match the pleats, rather than horizontal. I’m not a fan of having the slogan on the sporran. Then again, from the marketing argument that puts slogans on female waitstaff’s shirts….

    As for the length, the mnemonic is: “Above the knees: you’re a boy. At the knees: you’re a man. Below the knees: you’re a braggart.” I would have gone maybe an inch longer, but otherwise the length is fine.

    Still, both items are poorly made: the stiching on the shirt is awful, and it looks like the designers make the kilt too long and had to put in an ill-formed gusset at the model’s left hip. Peek-a-boo snaps holding it together do not look attractive: either do a better job hiding them, or bring them front and center as a part of the design. In truth, it’s a pretty sloppy execution.

  16. 16
    Gregory in Seattle

    As for kilts in general, I converted to Utilikiltarianism almost 8 years ago. I have them as summer wear (better than shorts any day) and I’ve worn them to various conventions and conferences. Even worn them on airplanes (and found out that they are not terribly comfortable for sitting four hours in.) Gotten lots of puzzled looks, and lots of complements, too. Never had any trouble.

  17. 17
    chasstewart

    I think it might have been the positioning of “Balls Are My Business” right over the crotch area that made this a comical outfit. I just don’t think MOST men have the confidence to pull this thing off and the waitstaff should feel confident.

  18. 18
    allencdexter

    I’ve been around a while, at 78. I remember how people looked down upon women who took to wearing slacks around world war Ii time. They could get very judgmental and condemning about it, my mother included. Later on, she took to wearing them herself as they became more accepted and my sister wore them most of the time.

    Styles and fashions change with time and so do attitudes toward those changes. If it’s a new apporach, expect someone to condemn it. Most people want to conform to something, and they’ll look askance at and ridicule anything that is contrary to what they consider the norm.

  19. 19
    Gretchen

    Polynesian men sometimes wear a lava-lava, which is a freakin’ sarong. With flowers on it.

    I imagine the PR judges would self-immolate or something.

    P.S. And lava-lavas are sexy.

  20. 20
    zardeenah

    My husband and I both loved the kilt. It would be super practical for the job – full coverage but cool to wear for a high activity job.

    We felt the judges’ reaction summed up the cultural differences between San Francisco and NY. Kilts just aren’t weird out here. We have a higher bar for weird than non-bifurcated garments on men.

  21. 21
    Lauren

    It’s pretty disingenuous of Susan Sarandan to coin a deliberately provocative phrase like “balls are my business” and then get all bent out of shape about its placement in a provocative location.

  22. 22
    Uncle Ebeneezer

    The bass player in my friend’s band (my band shared a gig with them) on Sat, had a bassist who was wearing a leather kilt. The interesting thing is that it didn’t call to mind, femininity at all, to me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m more mature, living in LA where norms are more edgy, the guy had a long beard and is anything but feminine, or because of my being vaguely aware of kilt-trends (I’m not a big Ren/SF con person but I know people who are so I’m familiar with kilts in that area.) Anyways, when I was younger I probably would have viewed a man in such attire as trying to be feminine or even made some unfounded assumption about their sexuality, but the thought didn’t even really cross my mind. So yeah, kilts are hardly an outrageous fashion statement in 2012.

  23. 23
    rowanvt

    I grew up going to the various in-state Highland Games every weekend there was one. Because of this, I not only love bagpipes (really useful in the car for humbling people who blast rap for the world to share) but think kilts are just about the sexiest clothing a man can wear. I do wish his kilt-inspired skirt was a little longer (the swaying about the knees is just nummy) and a bit more actually kilt-ish. It looks like it has a zipper, or buttons so it’s a single continuous thing rather than the wrap-around of a proper kilt. It’s also lacking the flat front and the fine/tight pleating, so it reminds me more of my old high school uniform. A kilt is a kilt even on woman. On a woman, what he’s wearing would be a skirt.

    That said though, there’s also nothing wrong with a man in a skirt.

  24. 24
    randay

    Gender Nomativity makes this vaguely on topic. Nothing to do with runways. This is a film from the 40′s on women lifeguards at a sea beach. I just thought you may be interested and didn’t find a place to put it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MkVvmMDwZLY

    Lady Lifeguards at Manhattan Beach.

  25. 25
    Pieter B, FCD

    I love my Utilikilts,* and I’m thinking of getting a proper tartan kilt or two for more formal occasions. I occasionally forget that I’m wearing one and wonder why I get “interesting” looks from passers-by.

    I’m surprised the judges didn’t know about this rather successful business now going national.

    * I’d love them more if the denim were still available; the cotton-poly just doesn’t have the right sway to it.

  26. 26
    Michael

    I’ve been wearing kilts every day for three years now, and I’d say the reaction has been, in general, positive (NB, I’m attending a prestigious university in an urban setting). That said, I do get a good deal of “he’s wearin’ a dress!” when I am out and about, accompanied by jeers and snickering, which I find rather frustrating.

    Further irksome, although quite possibly related to the gender-nonconformity of kilts, is the notion a lot of people I’ve encountered have that a kilt is not appropriate attire for a professional setting, for no other reason than “it’s not normal.” -_-

  27. 27
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    This thread now has me thinking about buying a kilt, but I can’t seem to find any information on their labor practices. I don’t generally buy expensive clothing articles unless I’m sure that they’re being made by well treated workers, does anyone here have any relevant info?

  28. 28
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Sorry, buy “their” I meant Utilikilt’s. But if anybody know of a competing union made brand that would alswo be welcome info.

  29. 29
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Well, there’s my offerings to Tpyos for the day.

  30. 30
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    The panel breaking out in giggle fits seems to indicate they ain’t as adult and sophisticated as they want to believe.

    And obviously uninterested in actually seeing fashion pushed in any direction.

    —-

    Utilikilts: I thought they all looked the same and not terribly impressive at that, especially for the ridiculous prices. (And gag me with rivets.)

    But kilts or not, men have worn skirts of various types since forever. So waaah to these judges who obviously want more slightly different monkey-suits for men each fashion season. Their mindset is stuck in a very narrow temporal and geographical zone.

  31. 31
    Greta Christina

    They are, in fact, skirts.
    Please give me one argument why a kilt is fundamentally different from a skirt that does not go back to “but skirts are for women and men don’t wear skirts”.

    Giliell, professional cynic @ #2: That’s a really good point. Most of what I’ve read/ heard from kilt-wearers (who’ve said anything about it at all) is that kilts aren’t skirts, so I was passing that along. But now that you mention it, I can’t offhand think of a good answer. (A couple of people here have suggested that the difference between a kilt and a skirt is the sporran, but I don’t think so: Utilikilts don’t have sporrans [although they do have a stylized closure in front outlined in snaps to represent it], and they’re still clearly identified as kilts.)

    Hm. Thinking about this. Thoughts, anyone?

  32. 32
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Oh, I also recall reading some comments from Tim Gunn a while back about why he doesn’t like women wearing men’s clothes. I can’t find a quote but I seem to remeber the jist of it being “they aren’t shaped right,” so one might charitably assume that he is ok with women wearing masculine clothes as long as they are properly fitted.

  33. 33
    rowanvt

    A kilt is a very specific type of skirt, if by skirt we are talking about an outer garment worn around the hips that is not pants. :P

    The construction of it makes the difference. Kilts are longer than many ‘short skirts’, being typically at the knee, not above. The front and sides are straight, the back is very tightly pleated with numerous small pleats. It’s also a wrap-around garment instead of a tube, like most skirts are today. This causes the back to swish about more than the front.

    http://www.tartantown.com/media/casual_kilt.jpg

  34. 34
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    A kilt is a very specific type of skirt

    I think that sums it up nicely. Saying “a kilt is not a skirt” seems to me like saying “a blouse is not a shirt.”

  35. 35
    bubba707

    Y’know, thinking it over, kilts make more sense for men given the “plumbing” and sensative bits that can get somewhat cramped in pants.

  36. 36
    SallyStrange

    Men wearing skirts is a fairly common site at any given contra dance or contra dance festival in the northeast.

  37. 37
    SallyStrange

    Sight, not site.

  38. 38
    Pieter B, FCD

    @dysomniak, darwinian socialist

    At least the last time I was in the main store in Seattle, Utilikilts were constructed on the premises, and the business had sort of a collective feel about it. I just called, and yes, they’re all still made in Seattle, and while it’s not unionized, workers are paid a living wage and most of them both sew and work the front of the store.

    That’s one of the reasons for the prices which were described as “ridiculous” by someone else above.

  39. 39
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    workers are paid a living wage and most of them both sew and work the front of the store.

    That’s one of the reasons for the prices which were described as “ridiculous” by someone else above.

    That’s good to know. I may be poor but I don’t consider it at all “ridiculous” to pay good money for high quality, long -lasting, and ethically produced goods.

  40. 40
    brianl

    I didn’t think the judges were giggling over the gender issues, but over the placement of the motto, which was provocative, but then having “balls are my business” as your motto is inherently provocative.
    I must confess, I forwarded though most of the group process as I usually do, so I didn’t see the details, but it did appear that the team was having issues getting a non-boring solution to a boring problem. Tim pushed them to take the risk they had talked about with the kilt. It didn’t work. Sometimes risks don’t.
    I also think the team dynamic hurt them. The use of the motto on that kilt was grade-schoolish, and it was viewed in comparison to a very well executed use of text on the other team’s ballboy uniform. Both the use on the shirt and the lettered trouser pockets worked well and didn’t come off as juvenile (to say nothing of being legible).

  41. 41
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Greta #31 – It used to be that “kilt” referred to a piece of male apparel that was very specific to Scottish culture; a smaller version of the breacan, or belted plaid, basically a large wool bolt that served as clothing during the day and a blanket at night. The “small kilt” migrated to Brythonic (mainly Welsh) and Goidelic (mainly Irish) cultures in the mid 1800s as part of a Celtic cultural revival.

    With the development of utility kilts and various modern incarnations, that distinction has largely been lost. Nowadays, the differences between “kilt” and “skirt” are mainly differences of cut and fabric, much like the differences between men’s and women’s shirts, or trousers and leggings.

  42. 42
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Pieter B #38 –

    At least the last time I was in the main store in Seattle, Utilikilts were constructed on the premises, and the business had sort of a collective feel about it. I just called, and yes, they’re all still made in Seattle, and while it’s not unionized, workers are paid a living wage and most of them both sew and work the front of the store.

    That’s one of the reasons for the prices which were described as “ridiculous” by someone else above.

    Yup. Utilikilts has proven to be a commercial success, but the company founder, Steven Villegas, remains a Seattle liberal. The price is because the kilts are not offshored: they are made in the US (mostly but not necessarily in Seattle any more) with all US made materials, by skilled people paid a living wage.

  43. 43
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Gregory

    Nowadays, the differences between “kilt” and “skirt” are mainly differences of cut and fabric, much like the differences between men’s and women’s shirts, or trousers and leggings.

    So, what fabric are skirts made of? And how are they cut? What length are they and what’s their pattern?
    There’s a bazillion types of skirts around…

  44. 44
    guthriestewart

    Yes, that’s back to front.
    A kilt is a length of fabric pleated together at the back. Unrolled, it’s 6 or more yards long by 2 or 4 feet or so wide.
    It isn’t a skirt because 1) we’ll kick your head in for calling it that, 2) It’s kilted fabric, not a bag made up in the way a skirt is; kilts open at one side.
    Women wear skirts, men wear kilts. Anyone object I’d tell them to argue with my granny but she’s deid. However I think more than 80 years of living in Scotland might just have made sure that she knew the difference.

    The sporran is just a mutated belt pouch.

  45. 45
    Carlos Cabanita

    The funny thing is men are feeling all the time that the things they used to wear, once occupied by women, become forbidden to them. The Romans used miniskirts, in the Middle Age they used collants. In the 18th century they (the rich ones) used silk stockings, high heels, velvet pants, white mascara, blush and gigantic blonde artificial hairdos. All that time, women could wear the long dress. Then came the Puritans, which essentially formatted men fashion with their austere look and their rejection of vanity. That influence persists to this day. Meanwhile, women liberated themselves and happily stole those styles that men once used. It is time for men to break the puritan shackles and express themselves again.
    (This is valid only for Western culture, now internationalized; for other parts of the world the story may be told differently).

  46. 46
    Carlos Cabanita

    *All that time, women could only wear the long dress or long skirts.

  47. 47
    indigoviolent

    For what it’s worth, there’s a pub in my hometown that advertises itself as Scottish-style (as authentic as a Canadian pub without hockey, but they do have a good selection of single malts). All the servers there wear kilts and yes, that includes the men. Everyone seems to cope just fine.

  48. 48
    jesse

    Echoing some above comments: the judges have never met a Scotsman?

    Kilts or “skirts” of some kind were the default wear of men and women for millennia precisely because it’s easier to make and wastes less fabric, skin, or whatever.

    Trousers don’t appear until people started migrating to very cold climates, and even then, you had a kilt in form and function a lot of the time.

    Trousers, near as I can tell, don’t start appearing until the early middle ages, judging by the art.

    Anyhow, the uniform pictured would go well with Gaelic night at many an NYC bar.

  49. 49
    elspeth

    Technically, as has been pointed out, there is a difference in construction between a kilt and a skirt. Lacking the front aprons, without going into whether or not the garment is basically a rectangle (partly pleated) or a cylinder, the pictured garment is not really a kilt. I’d have liked it better if it had been; however the flat double-layered front and pleated back developed, it’s an attractive cut even without the tartan fabric. Same for the mid-kneecap length, and the sporran, if worn, placed a bit lower (which would be even tackier than it already is, with that motto).

    If we expect men to wear it, we call it a kilt; and outside of highland games and gatherings and the manufacturers of kilted and scottish-themed clothing, that IS the important distinction.

    I agree that it’s silly to have separate names for skirts and dresses when worn by males, but I’m more interested in getting them into non-bifurcated bottom-wear than in getting them to admit it’s a skirt. This year.

  50. 50
    otrame

    I’m more interested in getting them into non-bifurcated bottom-wear than in getting them to admit it’s a skirt. This year.

    I think I love you, elsbeth. Baby steps still move forward, right?

  51. 51
    Marcus Ranum

    What the fuck was up with the judges getting nearly hysterical over the concept of men in kilts?

    Because it makes men less masculine. Ask the Gordon’s, Argyll and Sutherland, and The Black Watch, et al.

  52. 52
    Marcus Ranum

    Oh, and PS to the judges: the highland regimentals with the really big hats the the very ornate outfits (and kilts) are probably the pipers. In some regiments the pipers are the most ferocious and crazy of the lot. Don’t challenge their masculinity. None of us want that, because they might play their bagpipes while they’re dancing on you.

  53. 53
    laughingmadly

    Just to throw in a little anecdote of my own on the appropriateness of kilts as uniforms, when I lived in Seattle several years ago, I remember going to a student fiber art show where the whole catering/wait staff, both male and female, were wearing black utilikilts. We being fiber people were curious and had a whole conversation with one of the waitresses about them. She said they all loved them, that their boss got them as another unisex option to black pants, which they were allowed to wear too, but they all preferred the utilikilts. So I really was surprised when the judges made such a big deal about the waiters maybe not wanting to wear kilts when I thought it was an interesting idea, but by no means controversial years ago.

  54. 54
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I think in sumary we can say that the judges have never met the NacMacFeegle.
    Crivens.

  55. 55
    Dunc

    Marcus Ranum @51:

    Because it makes men less masculine. Ask the Gordon’s…

    Would that be the Gay Gordons? ;)

    (For those unaware, “The Gay Gordons” is one of the best known Scottish country dances. It pre-dates the modern usage of the word “gay”.)

  56. 56
    Christopher Stephens

    Heh, yeah, Giliell is exactly right.

    I wear kilts without a sporran all the time. Am I somehow not wearing a kilt then? Yeah, kilts (almost all of the time, anyway …) are pleated, fold over, aren’t elastic or drawstring, are a specific length, etc., but yeah, every such quibble don’t preclude them from belonging in the “skirt” category.

    Let’s not kid ourselves, pretty much the entirety of the “it’s not a skirt!!!” response is due to the horror at men wearing “women’s clothes.”

    Really, I’m thinking that elastic or some kind of drawstring might be more comfortable than the kilts I have now. Maybe I’ll grab some for this spring.

  57. 57
    vmsmith

    This post and discussion brought to mind something I heard on the radio yesterday as I drove from A to B:

    “Parisian women have finally caught up with the 21st century (and the end of the 20th century for that matter): They can now wear pants! January 31, the 213-year-old ban was officially lifted.”

    The vestiges of patriarchy erode at a glacial pace. [heavy sigh]

  58. 58
    Marcus Ranum

    I call my kilt a kilt because that’s the label that came on it. But it’s a skirt.
    I call my hakama a “divided skirt” because that’s what they are, too.
    Most of all, I call them both “cool in the summer” and “comfy as hell”

    I’m comfortable cross-dressing! But I really hate high heels.

  59. 59
    leonpeyre

    I’ve worn a kilt before, briefly. It’s not unmanly and it’s no big deal (or shouldn’t be). I’d challenge any of those judges to tell a Scotsman to his face that wearing a kilt is unmanly (I’m not Scottish myself but even I know better than that!).

  60. 60
    freemage

    I call my kilt a kilt because it’s made from wool imported from Scotland, dyed in my ancestral clan’s tartan, etc, etc. I wore it (with a tuxedo top) for my wedding.

    I call a Utilikilt a Utilikilt, never just a ‘kilt’, because it’s a derivative of the proper kilt.

    But I totally agree with the notion that the kilt and the Utilikilt are both subsets of skirts, not separate things.

    (BTW, I suppose I should mention the obligatory gag–”It’s not a kilt if you’re wearing something underneath.”)

  61. 61
    Iain Campbell

    I don’t know if I like these latest kilts for men. They’re far too masculine for my own tastes and I’m comfortable with that. Men should just stop pisswiddling about, man-up and start wearing skirts again.

  62. 62
    Bill Dauphin, avec fromage

    Heh. I shared this post on my Facebook wall, and was amused that the first person to “Like” it was an old high school girlfriend who is (sadly) just as prim, conservative, and Jesusy as her lifelong (non-Austin) Texas residency would suggest. My working hypothesis is that she just saw Project Runway and clicked “Like” without reading, never knowing that in doing so she was endorsing a critique of gender normativity written by a gay-married, queer-activist, angry atheist (quelle horror!).

    I find it entertaining to speculate on which of my “friends” really like — or even know — what they’re “liking,”

    PS: SallyStrange beat me to the comment about contra dancing. My daughter goes all the time, and from what she tells me, there’s no pretense that the skirts men wear there are anything other than skirts.

  63. 63
    nakarti

    Definition updated: Kilt: A Scottish skirt design, traditionally worn by men. (Not a dress; a dress is a whole-body garment including a skirt section of varying specific design, including but usually not naming ‘kilt’.)

  64. 64
    confuseddave

    I just wanted to weigh in on the kilt/skirt distinction. I was raised in Scotland and own a kilt, but I’m also borderline transgender and indulge in crossdressing from time to time, so I’m acutely aware of how a man wearing traditionally womens clothes is seen as transgressive (and would like very much for that perception to go away). But at the same time, I think there are important distinctions between kilts and skirts.

    Firstly, the structure of a skirt is (generally) sewn tubular, wheras a kilt is (again, usually) a single rectangle that’s pinned into a tube, with pleats at the back and a double apron at the front. Secondly, a kilt is (generally) of a much heavier material than a skirt – they are clearly designed to be “outerwear” in a way that a skirt is not. As someone who has many times worn skirts and many times worn kilts, there is a noticable difference to the “feeling” of wearing each. It bothers me when people refer to something like a light, tartan check plaid skirt as basically being a kilt, with the same kind of pedantic irritation as you might have for failing to make the distinction between a jacket and a coat in formal attire.

    I have to say, I have trouble with advancing this as a hard and fast distinction – I’m sure you can find light kilts, and I’m sure someone somewhere has made a dress that is neither sewn tubular, or is indeed made of some heavy material like dense-woven wool or leather. But even if the edges are blurry, I think there is an important technical distinction between a kilt and a skirt. I don’t think that a kilt should be considered “a type of skirt”, but that both belong to a kind of family of “skirt-like clothing”. I’m also a bit wary about projecting nomenclature onto a different tradition. A roman toga, for example, could as easily be described as a “dress” as a kilt could a skirt, but I think it would rightly be considered a rookie error, and for more reasons than just sexism.

    At the same time, a lot of the huffing about kilts and skirts *is* about sexism. People (usually English people) use the accusation that kilts are basically “just skirts” as taunts and tacit insults incessantly, and once you’ve heard that a few dozen times it’s hard not to get a bit defensive, even if you’re firmly against the ghettoisation of womens clothing.

    Nakarti@63 – a full plaid kilt fits your description of a dress.

  1. 65
    Runway Recap: Sizing It Up » Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] This was just boring, without the virtue of elegance. I’ll always respect Matthew as the man behind the PR kilt, and I strongly suspect he got sent home this week because the others on the bottom have more [...]

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