Fashion is a Sisyphean push. No amount of shopping or trend-hunting can firmly secure the metaphorical boulder on the hilltop because the only way the industry can sell a new trend is to convince us that the last trend is passé. And while we’re entirely free to opt in or out, no one likes feeling “out of style,” even while knowing that keeping up is costly, wasteful, and ultimately—Sisyphus, call your office—futile.
Hence the fevered debate of recent years concerning the humble jean. Rumors swirled during Pandemic 1.0 that hard pants would be out for good. Then Gen Z lambasted Millennials for their loyalty to skinny jeans. Now, in the last week alone, the mercurial fashion media have advised us to shop for slouchy jeans (it’s what Hailey Bieber’s wearing), and straight-leg jeans (according to Vogue, it’s the “fashion set’s most beloved shape”) and wide-leg jeans (“take a walk on the wider side,” says Elle). But maybe even skinny jeans aren’t gone for good? Levi’s CEO warns us that they never really ended. Don’t think of this as inconsistency. Au contraire, the message remains unchanged: forget whatever pants are in your closet and BUY! BUY! BUY!
For a respite from the unceasing trend chasing, I have a modest proposal: wear a skirt.
A skirt! I’d like to take credit, but it’s an ancient concept, more ancient even than pants. In the West, skirts have long carried an ugly, sexist legacy: women were forbidden from wearing pants, and likewise men would have been ridiculed for borrowing a garment that had become synonymous with femininity. In A League of Their Own (both the new Amazon Prime series and the 1992 feature it reboots), this topic comes up when the players on the World War II–era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League are forbidden to wear pants at their games. Instead, they must slide across the field in little pink skirts so that their spectators won’t be repelled by their masculinity, “dirt in the skirt” be damned.
While women fought to be freed from the implied shackles of their skirts, modern men had to wait to be allowed to wear them. As the cultural understanding of masculinity shifted in tandem with that of femininity (and even the binary of gender at all) the fashion world has, however reluctantly, allowed for a renaissance of dude-ly skirts. Now they’re the darling of celebrity tastemakers (and likely “normal” people, too, though we don’t see their photos quite so often.) Refreshingly, it’s not just a trend for Gen Z young’uns like Lil Nas X, but also gaining traction with more seasoned actors, from Brad Pitt to Oscar Isaac sporting them proudly on red carpets this year. (Pitt’s understanding of his participation in gender-bending norms is delightfully obtuse: “We’re all going to die, so let’s mess it up,” he explained to Variety in August). When wearing a skirt is a choice—and not a requirement—it’s freeing. What a delicious pleasure it is to feel the wind against your legs, to feel your legs against each other. And don’t get me started on twirling (any skirt I own with sufficient volume gets a full Anastasia fantasy sequence at least once per wear). Pants could never.
Skirts, of course, are not wholly spared from trend cycling of pants—I shudder to recall the bubble mini-skirts which dominated my high school years—but they seem to swing less quickly and less widely. Tartan skirts have firmly held their place since the 1600s in Scotland, and jumped the pond to find their way equally at home on Jean Paul Gaultier’s ‘80s runway as at Gwen Stefani’s concerts through the 2000s. In fact, the tartan skirt that I wear these days was my mother’s from the 1970s. Likewise, a simple denim skirt offers fewer details to muck with than jeans; the hems have moved up and down, and we’ve wavered between A-line and straight-cuts, but chances are, you can rock the one you have for at least a few years safely. Matching sets, tennis skirts, and “oh-my-god-one-more-inch-and we’ll-see-genitals-length-minis might be officially hot right now. But wearing the “wrong” skirt is much less of a thing than wearing the “wrong” pants, perhaps because skirts are not as universally worn in the first place.
They really should be, because they are, objectively, just better. Even before these trends started their dizzying dislocations, shopping for pants was sufficiently awful. The indignity of yanking on and shimmying up pair after pair, only to accept the ultimate futility of finding one with the correct geometry to ensconce the legs, hug the butt, and land at the exact right height on the torso, all this at an affordable price and with machine washable construction: a hellish task. And so often, even after finding an appropriate pair, wearing the garment becomes another torture: a stiff inseam digging into your crotch, a waist band pinching your hips, and the inflexibility to bend and stretch and move as you’d please. In fact, these two-legged torture devices didn’t even emerge until they became a sartorial necessity, coinciding with the domestication of horses to keep the skin protected while riding.
Today, barring jobs or leisure activities that put us out in the elements, the clothes we wear don’t really matter. You can keep up with cosmopolitan dictates, but no fashion choice enables you to outrun your own irrelevance; even dressed to the nines, you are born to die. So, why not feel comfortable as we march toward oblivion? I think we’ll find the experience more tolerable in skirts. One must imagine Sisyphus happier with a freed crotch, bare legs—in the winter, perhaps sheathed in a pair of tights. I hear the sheer ones are back in.