AS residents of the driest state in the driest continent on Earth, with a summer season that seems to start earlier every year, we South Australians frequently have to answer the question: what does one wear in a heatwave?

What possible outfit can one put together that not only keeps a person cool but actually looks cool after days on end of 40 plus degree heat?

We women have it relatively easy: we can wear breezy skirts and dresses, singlets and clothes made of flimsy, airy materials, without anyone questioning our sexuality or professionalism in the workplace.

I pity poor men, for whom the only choice is shorts and a short sleeved shirt. How restrictive! How dull!

Not to mention the fact that neither can really be worn in the office: shorts are usually considered unprofessional, and unless you want to look like the teenage intern you can’t wear short sleeves.

Long pants, business shirt, jacket and tie on a hot summer day — poor blokes!

But there is a solution to this hot weather fashion conundrum that has been adopted by men in more than half the world.


Long skirts swish around your legs as you walk, creating airflow that keeps you cool.

Mini skirts leave your legs stylishly bare, without a wad of material bunching up in your crotch like shorts.

And let’s face it, pants aren’t exactly a sensible design for men’s anatomy. Why have all that hot fabric mashed in around the crown jewels when you could be breezy and free in a nice flowy skirt?

Seriously, why don’t men wear skirts?

Of course, I’m talking about Australian men. Western men. Because all over Asia, Africa and the Middle East men do wear skirts, and robes, and sarongs, and no one bats an eyelid.

In India, where the heat can be oppressive, men keep cool in the lungi — a loose sarong tied around the waist that can be worn long or short.

In North Africa they have the djellaba — a long robe with a hood worn by both sexes, in lightweight cotton for summer and heavier wool for winter.

In West Africa, and many middle eastern countries, men wear kaftans. In Polynesia they wear the lava-lava. And of course Scotland has the kilt.

In those parts of the world, skirts and robes aren’t just for girls. The kilt in particular has always been seen as extremely macho, the garb of warriors.

In fact, it’s only in the last few hundred years that skirts have been feminised in the west; in ancient times it was the fashion for men to wear skirts because showing a strong, male leg was a display of prowess.

In ancient Greece and Rome skirts projected the ideals of youth and virility, while pants were seen as utilitarian, a bit barbaric.

Yet despite entire countries of men happily sporting skirts, most attempts to kickstart the trend in the west have been met with bemusement or, at worst, derision.

David Beckham was universally mocked when he dared to wear a sarong to an A-list party in 1998, and has never lived it down — although to his credit, he says he doesn’t regret the outfit.

Kanye West shocked the gossip rags when he performed in a leather skirt a few years ago, albeit with pants underneath, as did actor Jared Leto when he walked the red carpet in a skirt in 2015.

But perhaps the tide is turning. “Man skirts” were all over the runways at New York Fashion Week last year, and were actually taken seriously.

Ricky Martin rocked a kilt during his Adelaide concert in 2015, and the women swooned even more (me included). Will Smith’s son, 17-year-old actor Jaden Smith, sees himself as a pioneer of the man skirt movement, wearing them regularly on the red carpet.

Hamlet — another bloke fond of a robe — said “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

Similar can be said for clothing: there is nothing inherently “feminine” or “masculine” about any particular pieces of garb, it’s just cultural norms that make them so.

High heels — now seen as the ultimate symbol of femininity — began as riding shoes, used to keep Persian warriors’ feet in stirrups so they could stand and shoot arrows more accurately.

So powerfully macho were high heels that men on the street began wearing them, and continued to do so for hundreds of years before they went out of fashion.

From the early 1900s until the 1940s the colour pink — now seen as inherently “girly” — was viewed as a masculine colour because it was “stronger”.

Blue was considered “daintier”, and more appropriate for girls.

So there is nothing “feminine” about skirts, or “masculine” about pants, there is only an arbitrary set of culturally specific associations that, once you begin to examine them, simply flutter away in the hot summer wind.

Speaking of hot summer wind, guys: it’s much more bearable in a skirt.


First published in The Advertiser on January 11, 2017. CLICK HERE to read the original article.