Swedish men in skirts ‘unlikely to start a trend’

Swedish men in skirts 'unlikely to start a trend'
The news that Swedish train drivers wear skirts to keep cool in the heat gained global interest on Saturday and The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson chats to gender expert David Tjeder about why the humble skirt retains the power to shock.

“When women cross traditional gender boundaries, they take a step up in the social hierarchy. But when men do so, it is more taboo and they are ridiculed,” Tjeder, a lecturer and expert on gender and masculinity at Stockholm University, says.

“It could be that it is Sweden. We are known for equality and gender and it is a reaction along the lines of, ‘look they have gone so far, the men are even wearing skirts’,” he jokes.

The skirt has however not always held such a controversial place as a male fashion faux pas, Tjeder explains, citing the footballer cum fashion icon David Beckham.

“When David Beckham famously sported a skirt for a while around a decade ago the item briefly featured in H&M’s collection for men, threatening to break into mainstream fashion trends.”

“It almost became cool,” he says.

But the trend was fleeting, something Tjeder explains is illustrative of the limits to what is permitted in the public performance of gender even when it applies to traditional male occupations such as train drivers.

“While it is possible that train drivers wearing skirts will break these taboos, the most likely scenario is that their employer will change the clothing regulations and allow shorts,” he says.

“When the performance of gender doesn’t fit the established pattern then we usually intervene, then the whole thing falls flat.”

The drivers’ decision to wear skirts was explained as a bid to combat the stifling heat in the train and and not as a political statement.

Tjeder explains that this is in keeping with history, observing that women fought a long battle for the right to wear trousers, while men are unlikely to fight for the right to wear skirts, or lipstick.

“Society places a lower value on ‘women’s things’, it thus becomes ridiculous for men,” he explains.

Scottish men wear kilts, Asian men wear sarongs and African men wear kikoys, where is the line drawn between what is considered masculine/feminine?

“These examples illustrate a social acceptance for men to dress differently but remain within what is considered masculine. The line is drawn when it comes too close to what women have, that’s where the fear comes in,” David Tjeder concludes.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

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