Exhibit makes case for manly men in skirts

— This is an era of gender equality. In some households, it's the women who wear the pants. Why, then, aren't more men showing off their gams in skirts?

The problem is that in recent history there has been a feminine connotation linked to the skirt, even though men had worn them for centuries, according to Andrew Bolton, associate curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Men feel if they wear it (a skirt), their masculinity will be called into question. But if you've even seen a man in a skirt, the first thing you think of is male genitalia," he said. Roman gladiators, for example, proudly displayed their legs for all to see in short, skirted suits of armor as a sign of their virility.

Bolton organized the newest exhibit at the Costume Institute, "Bravehearts: Men in Skirts," which runs through Feb. 8, 2004. French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who has been known to send a men's skirt or two down the runway, is the sponsor.

"Historically, men had the panache when it came to getting dressed. They had the lace, they had the makeup. They dressed exuberantly, it wasn't considered either masculine or feminine. Look at Louis XIV or the Greeks in togas," Gaultier said.

"I'm not trying to put all men in skirts. I just want to give them the freedom to wear a skirt if they want to. Women fought for years to wear trousers."

For the gala the Met was throwing in his honor, Gaultier planned to wear a long, pleated black skirt with a classic white shirt, a black tie and a tuxedo jacket. "Really, it's very conservative," he said.

Skirts on display in the exhibit include modern kaftans from Miguel Adrover and Roberto Cavalli; leather punk-rock outfits by Vivienne Westwood; androgynous coats and "mini-shirts" inspired by David Bowie and Mick Jagger from the 1970s; and Courtney Love's baby doll dress, worn by her late husband, Kurt Cobain, on stage in the early 1990s.

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