Men’s fashion week begins on Sunday and, not for the first time, the Spring/Summer collections will present the nation’s fashion-conscious males with a suggestion at once unthinkable and really quite practical: would Sir like to try a skirt for the hot weather?
Twelve men in Sweden have already taken up the challenge. They’re neither cutting-edge fashionistas nor habitual cross-dressers. They’re just ordinary train drivers who happen to work in a cramped, badly ventilated train cab over the summer months. Their employer, Arriva (which also operates in the UK), banned shorts from official company uniform after taking over the line in January. As temperatures rose, the drivers took the only reasonable action available. “We have always said when summer comes we will get some skirts and wear them,” driver Martin Akersten told the BBC. “It’s very warm weather here so we would like to wear shorts but if we can’t, then we have skirts for comfort.” Management, apparently, can see the logic in this. “If the man only wants [to wear] a skirt then that is OK,” an Arriva spokesperson told local paper Mitti. “To tell them to do something else would be discrimination.”
So, as it turns out, skirts not only allow the summery breeze of liberty to circulate your undercrackers, they also provide great cover for smuggling progressive ideas into the workplace. These men in skirts have found an equable solution to their employee-employer dispute and put a jaunty, Monty Python-esque spin on the too-often adversarial topic of gender discrimination.
Last summer, when another skirt-wearing man made headlines, it was for a more serious reason. Nils Pickert’s five-year-old son was being bullied by other children in the conservative south German village where they lived because he liked to wear dresses and skirts to school. Pickert could have insisted that his son conform to social convention; instead he decided to “man up” and take a stand in solidarity. “I had only one option left: to broaden my shoulders for my little buddy and dress in a skirt myself,” he told German magazine EMMA. As with the Swedish train drivers, his story is a reminder that – in ways big and small – men, too, benefit when roles are a little more flexible.
Obviously, clothing isn’t the most urgent battle left to fight, but it is a readily apparent clue to how gender expectations continue to unfairly dictate how people live their lives. In the West at least, it’s also one area where, despite the pioneering efforts of one David Beckham, men have less freedom than women. Has the time finally come for men to liberate themselves from their trousers? It’s certainly the most comfortable way to enact a blow for equality.