Men in skirts Oh, those kicky kilts or sleek sarongs


In Paris, cutting-edge designer Jean-Paul Gaultier shows men in skirts and critcs applaud. On Seventh Avenue, Donna Karan ties up a casual spring look for men with a paisley sarong. At the Grammy Awards the male contingent of Arrested Development, the year's top rap group, wraps up in skirt-like fashion. In London now, mod young men wear kilts everywhere.

Men in skirts no longer shock. They've even been seen in Baltimore.

At Louie's Book Store Cafe, Joe Boudreau, sometime-manager, bartender and artist wears a skirt on occasion -- even to work at the Charles Street restaurant where Baltimore's bohemia does brunch and light fare.

"I first wore one in the early '80s. It was a kilt I bought in a thrift store in Ohio. It just seemed a fun idea that wasn't particularly foreign, because I'd seen pictures of my father wearing a kilt in his high school marching band uniform," says Mr. Boudreau.

He has been wearing a kilt off and on ever since. His latest is a Maryvale Prep field hockey kilt that belonged to a friend's sister.

"I wore it to work a few weeks ago. The boss just smiled, some customers laughed. The response from women is usually positive. They tell me they think men in skirts are sexy."

He isn't particularly fashion-conscious, just dressing in that throw-away style of his art student days at Pratt Institute in New York and atthe Maryland Institute of Art here.

The gritty grunge way to wear work shirts is to tie them around the waist when things get too hot. Now that wrapped skirt effect is hot style. Mr. Boudreau just laughs. "It isn't like you go to a fancy boutique to try on shirts to wrap around the waist or slip into skirts and raise eyebrows. You just pick through a thrift shop for what's there. That used-up look has been around forever and the kilt thing was seen on Axl Rose years ago."

The kilt may be old here, but in London young men are pairing kilts with castoffs and wearing them out and about at the trendiest watering holes. They're the British grungies -- and they mix traditional clan pleats with vicarage jumble sale finds and heirlooms. It's an irreverent deconstruction of the traditional garb they've seen on their future king.

Call them kilts, sarongs or skirts -- they have been worn with confidence by men in other centuries and other cultures. In the traditional ethnic dress of Asia, Africa and the South Sea Islands, trousers do not make the man. With the new multi-cultural awareness in fashion, American men may begin to accept a wrap as a wardrobe option -- designers certainly have.

"It happened in the collection of Jean-Paul Gaultier. He did a lot of long kilts in what he called the Viking look -- a kind of a heroic grunge," says William Mullen, fashion editor of Details, the magazine that tracks what's hot for the hip young male. "We saw some attempts to introduce skirts for men before, but it just didn't happen," says Mr. Mullen, "but this is 1993 and anything goes."

The skirts he anticipates are a far cry from club cross-dressing. "Of course Gaultier has that fashion fan following who will wear the total look. Get ready for the fashion victims. But the real feel of the Gaultier skirts was rough, earthy and dark -- the look of a mountain man coming out of the woods wearing everything he owns on his back."

That may sound frightening to the man whose wildest fashion statement to date has been a pair of patterned socks. Not to worry, designer skirts are certainly not a look that will ever be paired with wing-tips. But some will make their way to retail racks.

Alex Melendez, the American publicist for Gaultier, says "this is the first time skirts actually sold. Gaultier showed them in the '80s and got a lot of attention, but this is the first time stores such as Barney's, Charivari and Macy's West Coast took them seriously."

In a lighter vein, but very telling, is Donna Karan's spring offering of a paisley scarf that she showed tied as a sarong on an adventurous-looking model. It has that Indiana Jones in the islands look. Not sissy at all.

"It's sold and delivered to mainstream stores such as Barney's and Bloomingdales," says Larry Hotz, spokesman for Donna Karan Men. "The item is sold as an accessory, but is actually just a piece of straight fabric."

Could a man who has trouble with a Windsor knot manage it? "Well, the guys who could and would wear it can probably figure it out on their own," says Mr. Hotz. "It lends itself to wearing as a wrap over bathing trunks instead of a towel.

"With a great shirt, you could take it anywhere, even out to lunch. It's a great way to get around dress codes in resort restaurants."

What next? There has been buzz about men wearing aprons. Not the frilly kind, but industrial-strength leather welder's aprons worn over bared chests and leggings. That's a tough one.

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