Men’s fashion has long been associated with practicality and power. It’s the very reason why women fought so hard to wear it. But this year, the tables have turned.

Male celebrities are swapping their red carpet suits for gowns and modelling skirts on magazine covers. Fashion labels are adding skirts and dresses for men to their ready-to-wear collections and thousands of men are stepping out in what’s conventionally thought of as women’s clothing. And it’s not hard to see why. The traditional male wardrobe of five shirts, three pairs of pants and a good suit doesn’t exactly leave much room for self-expression. 

Until very recently, there’s been an idea that men shouldn’t care about fashion. Despite wearing clothing as much as women do, taking too strong of an interest in the topic was deemed feminine.

The 1990’s liked to label such men as metrosexual, a term defined by the OED online as “a heterosexual urban man who enjoys shopping, fashion, and similar interests traditionally associated with women or gay men.”

Society has always considered the elements of culture embraced by women to be more trivial than serious masculine pursuits and presumably this is the reason men are steered away from fashion. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence then, that women’s fashion has always been more creative, playful and experimental than mens. 

When Harry Styles appeared on the 2020 December cover of Vogue in a Gucci dress, it became clear that the traditional expectations around men’s fashion choices were shifting. And although there have been men such as Bowie, Prince, Kurt Cobain and Elton John, who all wore more feminine styles of clothing decades earlier, never has the style fallen so into the mainstream than it has today.

In the past, the men who were brave enough to don dresses, skirts and heels usually belonged to subcultures and communities that didn’t subscribe to normative standards of dressing. Goths, punks, rockers and most of all, the queer community have refused to conform to traditional fashion expectations despite experiencing decades of abuse for it.  

While gendered fashion may feel rooted to our society, it’s actually a relatively recent phenomenon. Men, of course, have been wearing skirts since the dawn of time. In ancient times, clothing was relatively gender fluid. In Mesopotamia, men wore the kaunake, in Ancient Egypt it was the shendyt and in Ancient Greece it was the chiton. And skirts are still worn as men’s formal wear in parts of Africa and Asia. There’s the kanga in East Africa, the lungi in Southern India and the sarong in Southeast Asia. And let’s not forget that most hetronormative men are more than happy to don a dress for a toga party. It’s clear that dresses and skirts can be considered masculine when they belong to a culture that believed they were. 

This year has seen countless male stars reinvent and play with more feminine styles on and off the red carpet. There was Pete Davidson’s simple Thom Browne dress at the 2021 Met Gala, Lil Nas X’s red tartan Louis Vuitton kilt on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NBA player Jordan Clarkson’s sporty Fear of God plaid skirt and most recently, Kid Cudi’s Eli Russell Linnetz white wedding dress at the CFDA Fashion Awards. Thom Browne, Rick Owens, CDG, Maison Margiela and Louis Vuitton are just some of the many high end fashion houses creating collections of dresses and skirts for men. 

These fashion choices are incredibly reflective of the deeper cultural shifts that are happening within our society. Gen Z embraces queer culture like never before and the expectations around what it means to be masculine and feminine are rapidly crumbling. These days, the men who confidently wear skirts and dresses are not only accepted but they’re considered to be cool as well. 

While Harry Styles, Jordan Clarkson and Kid Cudi may just be finding artistic expression through clothing, their choice to wear dresses and skirts tells an entire generation that women’s clothing is cool and powerful. And by default, so are the women who wear them. For decades, women have swapped their dresses for pants in the fight for their careers, power and equality. The world has told women that to be treated like men they have to act and dress like one. The same world believes that men wearing skirts is taboo because they are essentially giving up their power. But of course, a man’s status in the world is not so easily removed by a piece of fabric. 

So now the question can be posed to whether women will have to rely on her power suit in years to come now that men are wearing skirts and dresses. Perhaps there is a future where women will be taken just as seriously in a dress as in a pair of pants and what she was wearing won’t be examined in a sexual assault case. And while it may seem that skirts and dresses have been given a new power now that men are wearing them, perhaps it was the women all along. It seems natural that as women slowly meet men in their fight to equality that their clothing also loses it’s long-held association with powerlessness. If a woman can become a CEO in a dress, then why not men too? 

There’s no doubt that the world is ready for a more gender fluid wardrobe. And while it may be frustrating to the many members of the queer and trans community who have always bravely worn these styles, that it seems to take just a few traditionally masculine looking men to make wearing skirts and dresses cool, it’s a hopeful sign that the world is beginning to change. It points towards a bright future where men can wear skirts and dresses without worrying about their safety and a woman’s clothing choices don’t dictate her strength. It doesn’t seem long before fashion is removed from the politics of gender and clothing simply offers a creative and powerful tool for self-expression.