A Dress to Impress: Men donning female fashion


Ask yourself honestly: what would you think if you saw a man sat on the 025 bus wearing a black cocktail dress? Would you assume that he was on his way to a fancy-dress party? Maybe you would hold some form of judgement against him? Or even bring into question his sexuality? I’m sure that most of you would do no such thing, but many would, and I’m sure even the most progressive and accepting of us would take notice – as this is still an uncommon sight.

I will be covering only half the de-gendering of this fashion debate by splitting it up… by gender. While this does at first seem somewhat counter-productive, it is for good reason. Much of women adopting ‘male’ clothing is well under way and started for practical reasons, notably as they took up previously male work during the wars. Men have no such validation. I can claim that I find wearing a ball gown makes me feel like a better cashier at a supermarket in theory, but I doubt many will believe me, and I may even lose my job. This is purely a fashion choice, although it is integral not to downplay the importance of fashion in people’s lives as a form of self-expression as well as comfort. Relevant also, is that in my position as a man, I feel far better qualified to tackle our side of the issue.

There are some points I should quickly cover: I am using the example of men wearing dresses as an extreme representative for men taking up more feminine fashion as a whole – even clothes that belong in the men’s section but may be dubbed as feminine. I am not writing about clothing that is an expression of cultural heritage, kilts? – few are challenging their masculinity. I apologise to those members of the LGBTQ+ community that challenge gender, as they will ultimately not feature much in this discussion; A man wearing a dress is not the same as a trans woman. They are a woman wearing a dress. Nor am I talking about drag queens, as this is usually men dressing up as women (although I will concede this may be a grey area). I am talking about men dressing as men. By wearing a dress. Everyone happy? No? Well welcome to 2020.

I am by far not the first to share my opinion on this subject and many who would be considered ‘on my side’ in their opinions of this have brought into question historical context, most notably men wearing tunics in the past, with the intention of comparing this to wearing a dress. To be honest, this doesn’t really mean much. All this highlights is that what clothing is deemed acceptable or attractive is constantly in flux, but anyone who has taken a class in History could tell you that. It doesn’t stop some from viewing dresses on men as unacceptable in current fashion, but it does show the capacity for this to change.

This age old discussion on gendered clothing has re-emerged recently due to American Vogue’s decision to, for the first time in its history, have a solo man on the cover – that man being Harry styles – and shock/horror, he was wearing a dress! He is not the first male celebrity to don feminine clothing (YUNGBLUD, Kurt Cobain and Kanye West being notable examples) and he definitely won’t be the last, but his celebrity status merited response from the masses. A quick glance at the comments on Vogue’s Instagram post will make you put aside any pleasant illusions that this is not still a contentious issue, backed up by criticisms from a few well-known faces.

The takeaway from everyone’s opinion online is that the whole issue seems far too political and polarising. The vast majority of comments on the post (that aren’t a heart emoji that literally defeats the point of the like feature) fall into two categories: ‘Bring back manly men’ or ‘OMG brave king’. Well there is actually a third category – the subject of homosexuality – but this one is easy to cover. To put it quite bluntly – wearing a dress as a man doesn’t make you gay. Evidence can be shown here:


But as for the two main points, there are problems with both. The first of course is massively loaded. The implication is that what a man wears in some way defines or limits their masculinity. Gendered and homophobic implications aside, this argument can be shot to pieces relatively quickly as I doubt any man who chooses to wear a dress is unaware of the hate that may get thrown their way, and not caring what others think of you is very traditionally masculine. This obviously has not stopped people from finding reason to doubt men’s masculinity and my solution for this is that angry, aggressive men should take up wearing dresses to break the stereotype – although to be honest, if you keep calling them angry and aggressive, it may be the new normal for dress-clad men.

And while I of course think the latter group has its heart in the right place and I commend their support for a (relatively) momentous moment in the fashion world – I do think this approach should not be the default. What we should strive for is of course acceptance, but ultimately, indifference.  It should not feel to every guy that decides to shop on the ground floor of any clothing store that they are making some sort of stand and are being in some capacity brave or are a walking political message. How do you expect conservative MP’s to accept men rockin’ a skirt if we call it a stand for the left? This side is just as much using this issue to push a message as the other.

Overall, I do believe that men should feel able to explore more when it comes to clothing and I also firmly believe that it should be less noteworthy. It’s just some fabric really, both sides of the fence should stop pushing so much meaning onto it. Although looking down at the chipped paint plastering the nails of my typing hands, it is obvious where my bias may lie. I ask you again to think on my first question, putting yourself back on the 025 bus, because that man in the dress may well be me one day.

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