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Men’s Skirts: Breaking Toxic Masculinity in the '70s

Published onSep 08, 2022
Men’s Skirts: Breaking Toxic Masculinity in the '70s


Fashion leading up to the 1970s was characterized by ladylike elegance in the form of skirt suits and men’s continuation of military influenced suits. The traditional skirt suit illustrated by the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during the 60s included a boxy skirt, or an A-line dress and an overcoat which was accessorized with gloves, simple jewelry, and a matching hat. A prime example of the typical fashion of this time was Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe. Hepburn was often seen fashioning feminine skirt suits, long gloves, minidresses, and a bob haircut. Women’s skirts fluctuated during the 60s between mini and maxi skirt length as hippie fashion began to emerge. Men’s wear as well transitioned towards the more casual, hippie fashion by adding bright colors and patterns to suits. The traditional Italian suit style slowly adapted to include more energetic styles like that of popular rock artists Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix.1

Although there were subtle changes in the fashion world, men and women’s pant suits and skirt suits remained common style during the 60s, so what would cause two fashion designers to predict male skirts in the 1970s?

LIFE Magazine

In a LIFE magazine article, fashion designer Rudi Gernreich shared his predictions for ‘70s fashion trends. Predictions included no eyebrows, colored contacts, leotards, bold prints, and skirts for men. The main focus of Gernreich’s predictions was that men and women would dress interchangeably.2 He believed that function would outweigh form, and therefore both genders would dress based on practicality.

Snapshot of LIFE Magazine article with “everybody will dress alike” printed at the top and contains drawings of bald, topless male and female figures wearing identical miniskirts and pants. There is an emphasis on the bottom half of clothes covering the models given they are wearing no top and only pants or skirts.

Page from LIFE Magazine article on Rudi Gernreich interview

New York Times Article

While Gernreich predicted the appearance of skirts for men, fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes was busy designing and dressing male models in skirts for her April 5th, 1967 exhibit at The Fashion Institute of Technology.3 Hawes aimed at designing clothes that achieved a unisex aesthetic. She was drawn towards tackling the toxic masculinity that the fashion world faces. Continuing into today’s fashion certain styles still draw heavily from specific gender norms. Although both Gernreich and Hawes introduced the idea of breaking toxic masculinity and gender norms through male skirts, the style never stuck. Instead, the fashion industry works in today’s age to try and include less gender-specific clothes and embrace gender expression through fashion. While the 1970s may not have caught on to men’s skirts, the fashion industry today continues to work on the toxic masculinity culture of clothes.

Snapshot of New York Times magazine article with the title Now Men, Too, Can Agonize Over Their Hemlines. The article text relates to the fashion show and contains images from the show of men posing as well as walking down the runway in the designed skirts.

New York Times article on Elizabeth Hawes’ fashion show


So why did Gernreich and Hawes believe the 70s to be the right time to break old standards in fashion? It is possible that the post-war era sparked realizations about the strict gendered culture of America.4 During the war, women were seen wearing trousers and breaking gender norms left and right concerning women’s work and strength capabilities. Now seemed like the time to break the masculine and feminine boundaries of fashion through an attack on toxic masculinity fashion. Post-Cold War, Dorothy Shaver, a well-known fashion designer, centered her designs around “The American Look”.5 Dorothy created a female fashion line around women’s sportswear. The purpose of this line was to emphasize the cultural freedom of American democracy. During a time of rising communism, Dorothy hoped to demonstrate the economic and cultural capabilities of democracy. Thus, her fashion line centered around clothes that were adaptable to work and home life. This transition of an emphasis on function over form for women’s clothes posed an opportunity for men to expand their clothes past the traditional pant and shirt style. And while Gernreich and Hawes both received positive feedback on their designs of male skirts, it was too much of a leap to make a historical change in fashion.

About the Author

Caitlin Lefferts is sophomore at Wake Forest University from Connecticut. She is a double major in Art History and Business and Enterprise Management with a concentration in marketing.

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