Review: Bravehearts: Men in Skirts, by Andrew Bolton

PSA: this is not a book about one of the most historically inaccurate films of modern times.

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In many ways, all of them unfortunate, both this book and the exhibition at the V&A and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that it illustrates are ahead of their time. In a period where even Brad Pitt can turn up at a film premiere in linen skirt and jacket co-ords, skirts for men are closer to becoming mainstream than at any time since – well, since they stopped being mainstream, actually. What Marc Jacobs has been doing for years is now regularly seen on the likes of Oscar Isaac and in fine tailoring from Thom Browne and Raf Simons, whilst Lil Nas and Kid Cudi frequently sport edgier and more catwalked-based skirt outfits.

Maybe this book and exhibition helped kick-start this movement, but what I do think is unfortunate is that we could really use them both happening right now, as the male skirts have got a foothold in the public consciousness. Maybe it would be a good time to revisit and update the exhibition?

I shudder to think that, at some point, this was seen as the future of men’s skirts.

The book, “Bravehearts: Men in Skirts”, was published in 2003 by V&A Publications of London and is written by Andrew Bolton, author of books such as “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” and “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”. Bolton is currently Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. It’s a substantial hardback book, only 144 pages but very tall, in a 2:1 format – think maxi skirt rather than midi!

It’s organised into various chapters covering both the history and key movements of men’s skirts. It does cover the history of non-bifurcated men’s garments across the globe – not just the obvious ones like skirts and kilts, but sarongs, kaftans, kurtas, kimonos amongst many others (note on terminology: a bifurcated garment is one that is split into two halves – a pair of trousers, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts; a non-bifurcated document then is a garment that isn’t separated into halves, such as skirts and dresses).

As well as the history and fashion, it does discuss the movements that are associated with the wearing of skirts. For example, “Bravehearts Against Trouser Tyranny” – presumably providing the title for the book – was an organisation, one of several of recent times, dedicated to bringing about wider acceptance of (cis) men wearing skirts, and the book discusses the role that such organisations play in the history of men’s skirts. It also looks at the subcultures who have adopted the skirt as a demarcation from the mainstream, such as Punks and New Romantics.

The photography throughout the book is fantastic, especially (obviously) the more recent photos. There’s a good mix of both catwalk fashion (the sort of thing literally never seen anywhere but the catwalk), street style and casual everyday wear, so if you’re looking for inspiration of how to style a skirt for yourself there’s definitely plenty to be found. The writing is pitched perfectly, being neither too dryly academic nor patronisingly superficial. This is not a book that you’re going to skip through looking at the pictures because the text really informs and illustrates.

That said, it will be a pleasure to come back and flick through every so often, just for the quality on every page. The only problem with that will be procuring a copy, as it seems to be out of print; but if you can purchase a copy anywhere then please do, it’s definitely a book you’ll keep coming back to.

The Lowdown

Diversity and InclusionIt’s a book about men in skirts, but that doesn’t mean it’s pitched purely at men (whether in skirts or not). It’s a work that can be used by all, even if the content is about and features in the main, men. A
SustainabilityThe website has a comprehensive section on sustainability, such as reporting on the different scopes of emission through to talking about the beehives on the roof of the museum. There’s very little information on the actual book or the printing process, other than to say that they used FSC-approved paper from a UK paper mill. C
Vegan statusThere’s no information at all on the status of the book, either in the book or on the site. U
RatingIt’s a great book and probably a one-off in terms of the quality of the text from an author of this pedigree, combined with the wonderful photography. If you can find a copy, buy it. A

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