Much like the bloomer movement for women of the 1850s (although rather late by the standards of modern revolt), a new emancipation movement in male dress is striking down centuries-old restrictions on clothing for men.
While the bloomer movement saw women throwing off dresses and tight corsets in favour of bloomers and pantaloons,1 the men’s emancipation movement moves the opposite direction, getting rid of the pants and putting on robes, cloaks, and tunics. The movement began circa 2014, and is beginning to gain traction among middle class men.
“For too long have men been imprisoned by the clothing our wives made for us, often without any input from their husbands,” says Melvin Wimpleton, a leader in the movement.
In the current Western tradition, men are normally forced to wear long trousers, button-down shirts, and even neckties wrapped tightly around the neck.2 Certain professions require them to wear a full suit—all of the above plus a matching jacket and (sometimes) a vest—even when it isn’t cold outside. And for formal occasions, men are expected to wear tuxedos (a form of evening dress) even when it isn’t evening.
Wimpleton and others claim that men should be free to wear a greater variety of styles, especially simpler garments like the cloaks that were common in the Middle Ages. “For the past three centuries we’ve had to wear long pants and tight Argyle socks with silly patterns, ties that choke our throats, and business suits that make your blood boil in the summer. It’s time we threw off the restraints imposed on us by women and French fashionistas, and went back to the simple, natural dress we all wore 700 years ago.”3
Cloaks, tunics, robes, and the like are considered to be more “free” and “natural” by those in the male clothing emancipation movement. They allow more airflow, making them cooler in the summer, often don’t require zippers or buttons, and are suited to both casual and formal events. An estimated 12 or 13 percent of men in England now own at least one tunic or robe as part of their wardrobe.
Wimpleton also considers these garments to be as masculine as any. “Some call them dresses, but this is what guys like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Ghengis Khan wore. You don’t mess with those guys or you’ll get a sword through your stomach.”
And for those intellectual types, Wimpleton highlights examples such as Socrates and Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, and Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, all of whom wore some sort of robe rather than pants and shirts.
Some women, however, have expressed concerns about the new trend. Susan Klein, president and founder of the international non-profit organisation Keep Women In Charge (KWIC), says a male clothing emancipation may cause “young men to think they are allowed to make decisions for themselves, and even exercise authority in society.” The group also holds that it is “safer” to keep the design of clothing in the hands of a few, that is, the elite Fashion Industry, so as to prevent “fads like this one from spreading too far.” The group’s website also contains the statement that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, but certainly not equal to women.”
How far the trend will go remains unclear. I haven’t seen more than one or two blokes in The Flying News headquarters wearing tunics yet, but I have seen at least a baker’s dozen on the train rides home. I suppose the determining factor may be whether the next President of the United States of America wears a dress, since presidents tend to influence fashion more than the average male.
Aristotle tutoring Alexander, by J.L.G. Ferris, 1895, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
- Not that this was the last or only women’s emancipation movement involving clothing; some later emancipations have rejected loose clothing in favour of the skin-tight. ↩
- Some claim the necktie originated as a sort of bib for eating/drooling, while others say it is merely a necessity to keep their heads from falling off. ↩
- While Wimpleton did not state his age, he doesn’t look quite 700 years old. ↩