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The clothes that make the man | smh.com.au

From Braveheart’s era to the present day, the kilt has been synonymous with masculinity. But isn’t it just a skirt?

From Braveheart to the hard-drinking, ginger-haired Scots who cause a boozy ruckus at weddings, the kilt has long been synonymous with a rough-and-tumble sense of masculinity.

But change the fabric from tartan to a block colour and iron out the pleats and you have yourself a fetching knee-length skirt – an article of clothing the aforementioned filmic and social warriors wouldn’t be caught dead in.

While fashion designer Marc Jacobs has pioneered the idea of the male skirt by wearing them publicly on different occasions, it’s largely considered the by-product of eccentric creativity as opposed to a valid style choice, whereas the kilt, though carrying a different historical weight, is perfectly acceptable.

But what’s the big difference? Dr Mary Tomsic, lecturer in history and popular culture at The University of Melbourne, chalks it up to a gendered society.

“Clothing is practical, but also highly symbolic, so it is a key avenue through which gender is learned and encoded. One needs only to walk into a children’s clothing shop to clearly see how different girls and boys should be dressed … I see this as being restrictive for both boys and girls,” she said.

“There are a range of factors at play in determining the gender of clothing and these change over time in response to a range of factors: political movements like feminism and women’s liberation, cultural movements like glam rock, social and political needs like women wearing pants and work clothes during WWII, and commercial interests like companies identifying men as consumers, as per the metrosexual movement.”

Indeed, there have been moments in history when we’ve seen a blurring of gender lines. As Tomsic suggests, glam rock pioneers such as David Bowie and his spandex and makeup wearing cohorts showed men of the ’70s that sexual and gender ambiguity wasn’t to be feared but celebrated. But while the lavish stage costumes went on to influence such bands as Kiss, Culture Club and Mötley Crüe, it didn’t result in a broader knock-on effect because everyday consumers were still reluctant to buy clothes they saw as feminine.

“I think escaping the gender order is very difficult and strict gender codes can be restrictive for people in terms of expressing their sense of self … It shouldn’t matter at all – but it does – which tells us something about how society reads, understands and values women and men,” Tomsic said.

“I would like there to be less interest in coding clothes as belonging exclusively to either women or men. I can’t really see any benefits of coding clothes and fashion within a strict gendered regime.”

Though there is evidence that the tide is turning. Once considered a fringe item, male pantyhose – or mantyhose – have infiltrated the broader public sphere and now make up a small, yet noticeable, percentage of stocking sales. Executives from upscale Italian hosiery company Emilio Cavallini told The New York Times that since introducing a unisex line in 2009 they have seen sales steadily increase to a point where male customers are now an appreciable portion of their overall business.

It’s a trend that’s only going to gain steam as it becomes more accepted by the mainstream, says Chan Kraemer of mantyhose marketing website e-Mancipate.

“Fashion is always about exploring, about pushing the limits. That’s the natural way and critics are welcome,” he said.

“We are close to reaching the critical mass. And why not? Mantyhose are functional, they are basically unisex, simple to wear … they can replace socks, give different levels of warmth. I like that I can use the same trousers from fall to spring, only changing the thickness of the hosiery worn under. I mean it can greatly simplify the dressing process, which is very practical – and men do like practical things.”

Pantyhose weren’t always considered the sole domain of women. From the Middle Ages up until the 17th century, male hosiery was not only accepted but a common part of a man’s wardrobe. Even today, some segments of the male population continue to wear them, including athletes and those prone to poor circulation or varicose veins.

Though tights are more popular in Europe where they are generally thicker and feature designs considered more masculine such as skulls and checks, it’s difficult to imagine them taking off in Australia on account of our temperate climate and blokey culture. But that could all change according to Dr Tomsic, who says that shifts can occur with the right pioneers.

“Footballers have been wearing running tights for a while now … As we start seeing men, and in the case of AFL footballers, men who are understood as the bastions of masculinity wearing them, they become acceptable, and hence can possibly shift to other realms,” she said.

“When high-profile manly men wear such items they can have a significant influence with other men … For instance David Beckham in his sarong and nail polish had significant impact on trends, and what is then acceptable for more mainstream men to wear.”

While it remains to be seen if stockings will one day be viewed as completely genderless, there are signs that boundaries are slowly breaking down and marketers are starting to respond. Chan also likes to remind critics of one proudly masculine proponent of items traditionally associated with women.

“Hey guys, even Superman wears mantyhose,” he said.

via The clothes that make the man | smh.com.au.

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Olympic Madness – Lee Thompson flys his Skilt at the closing ceremony

What an honour to see Lee Thompson, the saxophonist from Madness, in his St George Cross kilt at the Olympic closing ceremony last night.  Looks like the Englishness may have been an issue though as a couple of small Union Flags had been stitched onto the front.  Wish we’d had the opportunity to provide him with a Union Flag kilt instead.  Hopefully the George Cross one will be returned to its full glory for future gigs.

Check out this video at 9’20”

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New Steam Punk kilt

This is some of the most amazing fabric we have ever seen: a prince of wales check covered with complex gold, silver, and black embroidery.  Some kind of weird organic clockwork feel.  It looks good on the roll but it looks amazing as a kilt.  With brass buttons and buckles this really is a past future classic!  Click here to buy one!

 

 

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Satisfied customer: Jaakko from Finland plays mandolin in his Skilt

The kilt was made using some of our last grey flannel fabric and features a panel of Dashing Tweed at the back.

The instrument is an octave mandolin a.k.a. short scale bouzouki.

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Azeem Ibrahim: Why We Need an Islamic Tartan

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Meaningful symbols bring people in communities together. National flags, for example, play an important part in raising community awareness and pride. The flag of St. Andrew’s cross or the Saltire is as familiar in immigrant communities in Scotland as the crescent of Islam, with allegiance to both being a powerful component of citizenship.

As a Scottish Muslim, I am deeply involved in the dynamics of community and the exploration of values of national and ethnic pride. Current discussion of independence and the future referendum is bringing a new focus to what it means to be a Scot, and Muslim communities in Scotland are particularly sensitive to the complexities of culture, race and religion that are perceived as an integral part of Scottishness. Generations who have known no other home than Scotland now have a primary allegiance to this country rather than the nations where their parents or grandparents may have been born.

Therefore the idea of a Scottish Islamic Tartan seemed to me to be the perfect symbol of the future generation in particular, for the younger, educated Muslims caught between two cultures — East and West, traditional and modern. Instead of conflict, the tartan represents a tightly woven blend of tradition and heritage. By bringing together the strands of two cultures, a symbol is created of something more meaningful than assimilation or accommodation. The tartan represents the new fabric of society, where Muslim Scots with a sense of history and a commitment to the future of Scotland have become an integral part of the New Scotland.

With the design and introduction of a Muslim tartan, I hope to interest, challenge and provoke discussion among people who have Scotland’s interests at heart. The exclusion of Muslim communities has never been in the country’s interest and Scotland’s future, whether devolved or independent, depends on every Scot playing a part in creating a peaceful and successful homeland. What more fitting symbol of this aspiration than an Islamic Tartan?

via Azeem Ibrahim: Why We Need an Islamic Tartan.

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Q: Why Do We Wear Pants / trousers? A: Horses – Alexis Madrigal – The Atlantic

Q: Why Do We Wear Pants? A: Horses

JUL 11 2012, 2:22 PM ET 61

The surprisingly deep history of trouser technology.

Whence came pants? I’m wearing pants right now. There’s a better than 50 percent chance that you, too, are wearing pants. And neither of us have probably asked ourselves a simple question: Why?

It turns out the answer is inexplicably bound up with the Roman Empire, the unification of China, gender studies, and the rather uncomfortable positioning of man atop horse, at least according to University of Connecticut evolutionary biologist Peter Turchin.

“Historically there is a very strong correlation between horse-riding and pants,” Turchin wrote in a blog post this week. “In Japan, for example, the traditional dress is kimono, but the warrior class (samurai) wore baggy pants (sometimes characterized as a divided skirt), hakama. Before the introduction of horses by Europeans (actually, re-introduction – horses were native to North America, but were hunted to extinction when humans first arrived there), civilized Amerindians wore kilts.”

The reasons why pants are advantageous when mounted atop a horse should be obvious, nonetheless, many cultures struggled to adapt, even when their very existences were threatened by superior, trouser-clad horseback riders.

Turchin details how the Romans eventually adopted braccae (known to you now as breeches) and documents the troubles a 3rd-century BC Chinese statesman, King Wuling, had getting his warriors to switch to pants from the traditional robes. “It is not that I have any doubt concerning the dress of the Hu,” Wuling told an advisor. “I am afraid that everybody will laugh at me.” Eventually, a different state, the Qin, conquered and unified China. They just so happened to be closest to the mounted barbarians and thus were early to the whole cavalry-and-pants thing.

Turchin speculates that because mounted warriors were generally men of relatively high status, the culture of pants could spread easily throughout male society.

I’d add one more example from history: the rise of the rational dress movement in conjunction with the widespread availability of the bicycle. Here’s a University of Virginia gloss:

The advent and the ensuing popularity of the safety bicycle, with its appeal to both sexes mandated that women cast off their corsets and figure out some way around their long, billowy skirts. The answer to the skirt question was to be found in the form of bloomers, which were little more than very baggy trousers, cinched at the knee. Bloomers provoked wrath in conservatives and delight in women cyclists, and the garment was to become the centerpiece of the “rational dress” movement that sprung up at the end of the 19th century.

What all these examples suggest is that technological systems — cavalry, bicycling — sometimes require massive alterations in a society’s culture before they can truly become functional. And once it’s locked in, the cultural solution (pants) to an era’s big problem can be more durable than the activity (horse-mounted combat) that prompted it.

via Q: Why Do We Wear Pants? A: Horses – Alexis Madrigal – The Atlantic.

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Mexican kilt

We were originally commissioned to create a Mexican kilt by a client who runs a Mexican restaurant.  The complex Mexico crest was always going to be a challenge.  According to Wikipedia:

The current coat of arms of Mexico has been an important symbol of Mexican politics and culture for centuries. The coat of arms depicts a Mexican Golden Eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake. To the people of Tenochtitlan this would have strong religious connotations, but to the Europeans, it would come to symbolize the triumph of good over evil. The national coat of arms is also used in the Seal of the United Mexican States, a modified official version used by the federal, state and municipal governments.

In the end we decided to use fabric paints.  Many thanks to friend and fabric designer Anna for her fabulous brushwork.  It was a lot of work but I think you’ll agree that it was worth it.

We have since found out that using the image of the Mexican flag on garments is against the law in Mexico.  I guess I won’t be going there for my holidays!

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Union flag kilt featured in Present’s jubilee punk theme window

If you’ve walked along Shoreditch High Street recently you’ve probably been drawn into the cornucopia of fabulous delights that is Present.  The FT’s ‘How to spend it‘ raves about them and says they stock “Brilliantly edited modern menswear that pushes fashion boundaries without going over the top”.

I was wowed as I browsed through for the first time last winter.  It turns out that Eddie (the co-owner of Present and co-founder of the famous Duffer of St George) was equally wowed by the Union Flag kilt I was wearing.

The upshot of this chance meeting (don’t we always meet more people when we wear a kilt?) is that we have been given the honour of being featured in their jubilee punk themed window.  Thanks guys!

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