March 17, 2014

How to Know When a Skirt is Not a Skirt

The recent bangarang over Omar Epps wearing a skirt on 'The View' resulted in heated debate about whether a man should wear legless lower-garments. Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) faced similar criticism for donning a Kente wrap at a South African conference. Pharrell Williams was thrown shade for sporting a kilt-like garment in a GQ photo shoot. The debate is particularly interesting as it seems to be concerned with American men Black American men specifically. White men, on the other hand, get a complete pass as metrosexuals; free to explore fashion and exhibit refined tastes without injury to their masculinity or suspicion about their sexuality.

Yasiin Bey, Getty Images
Pharrell Williams, GQ Magazine
No small amount of weight is placed on the shoulders of Black men who color outside the fashion lines. Critics hold them responsible for bringing down the Black race, oppressing a group of people who are in much need of uplifting. Frankly, that's quite a bit of power to endow upon individuals who are simply responding the question in their head: "What will I wear today?" Further, misplacement of this responsibility on the part of critics assumes that the Black population at large is void of its own values, mores, and ability to make decisions based on those factors. 

Legless Garment ≠ Drag

Historically, wearing pants is a recent development in men's clothing. Up until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, men, in many parts of the world, wore legless garments. That's right, playas, Spartans, according to your definition of style, wore dresses! As did many of the most might men known in military history.

Today, men continue to wear traditional garments in public settings in many parts of the world. African countries are the most often cited locations for this practice by Black Americans, but they are by no means alone in this. Omar Epps credits the Maasai with his fashion choice, but his outfit seems Roman inspired to me. You be the judge!

A skirt or dress in America fashion does not share the shame history, cultural concept, or signification as legless garments from different parts of the world. And when foreign styles are imported into America by Black men (often through sampling, no different than music) they should not be dropped into a melting pot in an attempt to morph them into something distinctly American. To do so is a mark of ethnocentrism and cultural blindness. 

A man dressed in a legless garment is not always a man in drag. Knowing the difference requires that one denounce stylistic laziness and, instead, acquire knowledge about clothing outside their limited universe.

Emasculation of Black Men or Just Another Realm of Restricted Freedom?

While researching this piece, several theories surfaced. They are used to explain what's behind the "skirt gang," an emotionally charged phrase defining Black American men in what are thought to be female clothes. The thinking is that the Illuminati are intent on demeaning Black life and culture by hinging the wealth and stardom of Black entertainers on how well they perpetuate the gay agenda, contributing to the emasculation of the Black male. Critics of the "skirt gang" attribute this foggy plan to the Devil.

No attempt is made here to unravel this notion or to dismiss it, whole cloth, as a crazy conspiracy theory. What is argued here is that if there is sincerity concerning the moral aptitude of the African diaspora in America, it must be coupled with knowledge of and an respect for men's clothing and apparel of other cultures. 

Morally, critics need to be careful that they are not promoting a dictatorial stance that perpetuates irrational oppression and robs men of their freedom to make choices for themselves. They must be careful to not diminish Black culture by prohibiting the importation of African culture by Black American males. They must be careful not to suppress the freedoms of the Black male by attempting to employ the types of "moral decency" and "proper role" strategies that have crippled women for too many centuries. They must be careful to not be participants in that foggy impoverishing force intent on emasculating the Black American male.

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