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?
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?
Fashion 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?
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?