“Normal range”: 6 men wore skirts – here are their reflections after the experiment

In October 2020 Spanish student Mikel Gomez came to school in a skirt. He made a video about that and posted it on TikTok. The administration of the school was outraged by such self-expression. Mikel was expelled from the school and sent to a therapist. Cases of bullying and aggression called by outfits still occur around the world. At the same time, worldwide famous brands under the influence of global trends and community’s requests pay attention to and present gender-neutral collections (just since 2021st searches for unisex clothes have increased 33 percent).

Last year, Gucci made a new gender-neutral section on their site, with no division into men’s and women’s clothing. And this year the brand presented a new capsule collection of jewellery, designed both for women and men. In June 2021 Jimmy Choo created a collection of unisex high heels. Gender-neutral collections are often presented by JW Anderson, Louis Vitton, Rick Owens, Prada, Burberry, and others. Such Ukrainian brands as Yulia Yefimtchuk, W8Less, Chakshyn, Ksenia Shnaider, and others also join the neutral approach.

The C-Element editorial and sustainable agender brand Svitla Volka Design did an experiment “Normal range” – 6 men wore skirts, selected specifically for them. 5 men`s experiment was successful. One participant had difficulties with leaving his room in a skirt, but yet he shared his observations and fears. You can read guys` stories below.

When I was suggested to participate in the experiment at first I felt fear. But then this emotion turned into excitement. Girls and I decided to make a samurai look. I`ve been dreaming of doing a photoshoot in kimono for a long time. I don`t know, how, but girls made my little dream come true. So we picked the colours and the skirt the way it fits the idea and image. 

Aside from the photoshoot, I wore the skirt on walks along the waterfront, pier or beach. I felt very cosy and comfortable. Freely, “motionally”. I think the materials` quality played a big role in that, the production is high-level. The cut, the colours, the fabrics.

My inner circle took the action as an interesting idea to try something new. Strangers` reaction was calm and appropriate. I was worried about other people`s opinions first, though. But when I saw an appropriate reaction to my look, I relaxed. Started having fun and enjoying the process. If I was suggested to repeat the experiment, I would say “yes” without thinking. I didn`t dive into the agenderness question, but I don`t find that a catastrophe. 

Wearing a skirt doesn’t mean you’re not masculine. Masculinity doesn’t come from clothes. It comes from something inside you. Men and women can wear the same clothes and still be men and women. It’s fun

Jean-Paul Gaultier at the «And God created Man» collection presentation, 1984

I was glad when I got the suggestion to take part in the experiment. I wanted to pick a coffee-colored skirt. But then I got, that it doesn’t fit my clothes and shoes. So I switched to grey. The look itself is an urbanistic person from a time of informational singularity. With allusions to samurais from the `60-70s anime, and a futuristic view on the metamodern fashion. 

I wore the skirt to a party, for a walk, to a hospital. 

When people saw me, someone was surprised but tried to hide their reaction. The only one, who couldn`t resist, was one of the public offices` workers. As I was leaving he shouted: “Great, well-done, man!”. Women mostly were interested. The look with a skirt and certain masculine aggression combined is unusual, and their reaction demonstrated, that it is also attractive. Women`s attention was mostly drawn to me at the party. I got a feeling, that some men even envied that. 

The negative reaction was mostly coming from elderly soviet-type men. but they were afraid to express it. Before the experiment, I was aware, that there was some risk to get into trouble. But I was ready to defend my identity. Such readiness can be read easily, so no one said claims out loud. 

I will definitely keep wearing the skirt. Agenderness becoming a casual thing is an inevitable process. In my opinion, fluctuations between opposites – such as modern aggression and postmodern queer – is the future of fashion. Which is already coming.

I felt happy when the experiment started. I picked the skirt myself. I chose the dark one, so it was suitable for daily life. But it also turned out to have surprisingly high quality. All friends were most complimentary in their comments, touched the fabric and asked the name of the brand afterwards. 

I had a regular day in a skirt: re-vaccination, work, a walk. Everyone reacted really appropriately. A lot of women complimented me. Elderly people spat, strange men willed not to notice – no skirt, no problem. I was a bit scared only while riding a bus. I was coming home late that time, so my heart was pounding. 

I would gladly do the experiment again. Especially in warm and hot weather. 

Stereotypical ways of being masculine are dangerous to men and dangerous to women. Masculinity is often moulded by violently toxic stereotypes. Any possible reference to femininity is aggressively banned, as it is considered a threat

Alessandro Michele at the collection presentation at Milan Fashion Week, 2020

The experiment suggestion occurred in good time. I wanted to widen the frames of my usual wardrobe and was considering wearing skirts. Also the week before that I saw a guy in a mini-skirt. He left the club on Kyrylivska and headed towards the city. I thought then: “Wow, he is brave. Would I be able to do so?”. Turned out, I would. 

I picked the black skirt. It keeps the balance of feminity and masculinity the best. I was comfortable, I liked to feel the freedom of my body. It was odd not to have pockets, and some procedures and rituals took more time and effort than usual.

I worked at the office and had a walk along Podil streets, took coffee at cafeterias and had dinner at a restaurant. Although I walked the most liberal neighbourhood of the city, a lot of people didn`t hide surprised glances. Women smiled, one of them even complimented me. People around me are used to me dressing extravagantly. So anyone who saw me was pleased. But the fear of aggression was always there. Before returning home to Tatarka late at night, I changed into shorts. Despite controversial emotions, mostly I felt more confident, more handsome, more spectacular and, ironically, more “masculine”, than usually. I wanted to keep my back straight and make wide gestures. 

The day of the experiment might be the first time in the last three years when I consciously was thinking about clothes and combinations of parts, colours and forms. The skirt was black. A linen shirt suited it. I`ve bought it a long time ago at a thrift shop and wore it when felt like it. A kimono over these elements fit perfectly. As a result, another person was looking at me from the mirror. But I liked this person. 

In a skirt, in the daytime, I walked the Franik* streets with kids and friends, in the evening I also visited a local bar in the city center. 

*Franik – slang for Ivano-Frankivsk, the city in Western Ukraine

First, I met my kids and wife. We went to the park to have a walk and take photos. We found a big plastic dinosaur there. At this moment I saw two guys in tracksuits nearby. I went to them, asked, if I could take a photo with them – vyo, they agreed! We got to talking. Guys are members of a department which does some operations – everything is secret and confidential. Asked about the outfit. But they didn`t deepen. Said, that it was unordinary and interesting and they saw, that this city feels like it is possible to dress and look as you wish here. 

In the evening, I went to one of the bars with friends. There I met an owner of a JBL dynamic, that was screaming with tough techno. The guy was already pretty drunk, he was storming and torn apart by music. He called me Jesus all night long because of my look. And part of his friends tried to remember some kind of a Japanese-Chinese word, that was supposed to mean my look. I explained to them, that this black thing is a skirt, the grey one – kimono, together – clothes. At 3 am we were followed with drunken eyes of a group of teenagers, but I didn’t get any judgemental comments that day

I agreed easily to spend a day in a skirt. I am quite self-confident, has been doing sports, served in the army. I wasn`t afraid of external aggression, I could defend myself. 

I decided to spent a day at work this way right away – at a big office building for a few hundreds of people – to make the experiment serious. I went to the head of Human Resources, agreed on details, and I agreed. In a few days, I received the skirt, tried it on and got paralyzed. Whatever I tried to put on with it, I felt like I look like a scarecrow. I was surprised: I wore a Scottish kilt, Indian sarong, and didn`t feel any insecurities. It was just a different cutting this time. I just needed to pick the right shoes and a T-shirt. But no fittings helped. 

Then I thought, that it was about the fear to be unaccepted by strangers. Then I decided to wear the skirt at a home get-together with friends. They definitely wouldn`t mock me. I entered my room, changed – and couldn`t pass the doorstep. Some kind of irrational feeling stopped me. You`d think, there sure was nothing to be afraid of. But in 15 minutes of standing at doors, I still went to change into pants. 

I even decided to talk to my therapist about that. It turned out, that I was held back by a number of convictions. First. that a skirt is exclusively women`s clothing. Secondly, unconscious fear. Not of real danger, but a fear to look different in the eyes of others. Thirdly, a clear army rule “clothes make a person”. The rules of wearing a uniform are pretty strict in Ukraine. There was the division into summer, demi-season and winter uniforms. So at any given time, you had to wear specific clothes, mandatory colours and you could even get the right to roll the sleeves only after a concrete date, written in the order. Unfortunately, understanding the reasons for my fear did not help me overcome it. And I don`t know yet, what has to happen for me to separate myself from clothes and stop worrying about the way others esteem me. 

Our experiment is in opposition to the local understanding of masculinity`s features with an attempt to stay in your gender with no support from external attributes. It is a reflection on the nature of qualities at all

Svitlana Volkova, the founder of and a designer at Svitla Volka Design

The brand’s team is convinced – fashion forms the consciousness. So for a change of the behaviour emerging of such experiments is a chance to start a discussion and get support. The brand also gave its skirt to Mikel Gomez from Spain. When they heard about his story and support flashmob from his teachers, the Svitla Volka team wrote Mikel`s in DMs and offered a skirt as a present. Michel publically thanked the brand by posting stories with Ukrainian clothing. 

In fact, this experiment is not ending, it just starts. Because the way to realization, that clothes are just an external attribute and receives the meaning only when we put it in it, is still long. But it has started. The transformation of the society is to be continued. 

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