Kilt controversy points up need to expand male dress choices
by, 11th-April-2008 at 05:06 AM (2555 Views)
Teenager Nathan Warmack of Jackson, Missouri tried to attend a high school dance in a Scottish kilt. The school’s principal ordered him to change into pants. Warmack would like to be allowed to attend the prom in his kilt. Other teen boys have tried to wear kilts to school or school functions and been sent home because of it.
While some observers might be tempted to dismiss Warmack as a stereotypically rebellious teen trying to get attention, it appears that his kilt wearing comes out of a healthy historical interest and ethnic pride. Of Scottish descent, he became interested in his heritage after seeing the Mel Gibson film Braveheart. He began reading books about Scotland, visiting websites to trace his family’s genealogy and sometimes donning a kilt.
That his kilt wearing has caused controversy is symptomatic of the limited clothing options considere d acceptable for boys men in American society. Women and girls can show up to almost any function attired in pants, skirts, or dresses. We can wear ribbons and lace and ruffles and we can wear starched shirts, jackets, and ties.
By contrast, boys and men have much less freedom of choice. Their clothing tends to run a narrow range between the t-shirts or turtlenecks and pants of casual attire and the coat, shirt, tie, and pants that is the quasi-uniform of male business and formal wear.
It might help those trying to expand the choices of boys and men in this area to be reminded that American women have not always had the freedoms we now enjoy. Indeed, we have clothing liberty because our courageous foremothers fought long and hard for it.
On December 29, 1852, Emma Snodgrass was arrested in Boston for wearing pants. Throughout most of the 19th Century and to some extent into the 20th, a woman in trousers was someo ne rebellious and scandalous. Mary Walker Edwards, a physician who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War, found the acceptable apparel for women of her time period overly restrictive and “immodest” so she often dressed in slacks. As a result, she was frequently arrested for impersonating a man. During the same time period, suffragette Amelia Bloomer won notoriety for championing women’s wearing of the ankle-length loose-fitting pants that would be called “Bloomers” after her. Many suffragettes took up wearing Bloomers but most soon abandoned it because women in pants were subject to so much ridicule that they feared they harmed their other causes by it.
Within the lifetimes of many of us, women wearing trousers were sometimes disdained. Boze Hadleigh in Hollywood Lesbians quotes famed costume designer Edith Head as speaking derisively in the 1970s of “women’s libbers in pants.” An online arti cle called “Trousers in History” notes that “Until 1970 it was not fashionable and sometimes against the law for women to wear pants in offices, classroom, and restaurants in the U.S.”
American girls and women have achieved clothing liberation. Let’s hope our boys and men win a similar freedom.