boy in a dressI have a beef about men and dresses. Either they love them or they hate them. No middle ground- it’s a polarising topic. Many men would run as fast as they could in the opposite direction when even the merest whiff of dresses comes up, while for other guys the chance to play dress-up is irresistible, and they will never say no when the opportunity arises…

I’m half Scottish. Need I say more?! I was brought up in a kilt- wearing environment, where at a party every single person there, male and female, would be wearing a skirt or dress (OK, OK- not a skirt, a kilt ;-)). I love the things, from the way they look and the colours they have to the way they make men behave- they bring out the gentleman in most men, and they obviously love the feeling and the comments they get from wearing one.Back many, many moons ago when I was at school we used to have a ‘home clothes day’ maybe twice a year. At least 3 male teachers in my all girls’ school would come EVERY time dressed in their wife’s rather frumpy dress, teamed with high heels and a matching handbag! They loved the opportunity to slip on a frock and parade around in front of a crowd, legitimised by the fact that it was a special/ odd day.

Fast forward about 15 years, to when I was working on English summer schools in the south of England: each class would put on a performance of something ‘English’ to act out at the leaving show. I cannot count the number of times I watched teenage boys dress up in skirts and dresses in order to take part in a rendition of “Hit me baby one more time!”, or some similar song! All the boys were happy to wear skin- tight, short numbers, with full (but grotesque) make-up to top it off.

And now, with small children of my own, I find that I have to celebrate two holidays each year which involve dressing up: Fasching (Carnival in Austria), coming up this weekend and Halloween at the end of October. My daughter, of course, wants to be a princess- Elsa, if you want specifics. My son, also, wants to be a princess- doesn’t matter which one as long as she has a sparkly dress and a tiara. And to be honest- great! I don’t mind what he wears as long as he’s happy- as unhappy involves a lot of shouting, hair pulling (mine/ his/ any he can get his hands on!), and general miserableness. He twirls and prances and loves the outfit to the full, as does my daughter in her dress. And he’s not the only one- a friend of mine is currently ‘in talks’ with her husband about whether her 4-year old son can wear an Elsa dress to the Fasching party. What’s the big deal?

My boy is a dresser- upper. There- I’ve said it! He would wear a dress every day if I and my husband would allow it. And this is where the ‘hate’ part comes in- my husband hates it. He does his best to avoid the issue- we don’t even say “Let’s get dressed” in the morning as just using that word will spark off the boy’s hopes for his outfit. When we head off to the bedroom to put on clothes there is a tussle in front of the closet, as my boy jumps up and down shouting “dwess, Mummy, dwess!”, pointing to a yellow or pink number that is in fact my daughter’s. I have been known to give in and send him off to Kindy with a dress on over his jeans- to tuck in or not as the mood takes the teachers there. My husband on the other hand will happily engage in full- scale war in order to get him looking ‘right’. My daughter is equally as stubborn- she will never wear jeans, opting for dresses or skirts every day. And it doesn’t matter for her- she’s a girl.

But why are we on the whole so anti boys in dresses? Women can now wear whatever they want, from the girliest of outfits to exactly what men wear, both in the office and out. Yet there is still some catching up to be done in the opposite direction- women’s clothes are generally a no-no for men, and especially in a work environment. Some celebrities have been pushing the trend- Jared Leto and Jayden Smith being the latest to strut their stuff in a skirt- but it is still very much a minority, and still seen by most as bucking the trend.

The tag word on everyone’s lips these days is ‘gender fluidity’- manifested in cross dressing on the fashion runways, and androgynous styles everywhere. Certainly, this is not something new- cross- dressing has been around for a long long time, but it is now becoming the new ‘norm’, and, as Nicola Formichetti, owner of genderless fashion brand, Nicopanda, put it, “… we’re not scared anymore to dress however we want to. If a boy wears a skirt or a dress, why can’t he?”

Well, I’m not at the forefront of fashion (or even near the middle of it), but I am pro freedom of expression and choice. I have no problem with boys wearing pink and girls wearing blue (and actually when this whole “one color for boys another for girls” madness started, pink was actually for boys: it was a lighter shade of “masculine” red, suitable for a boy. Girls got blue, which was associated with the female symbol of the Virgin Mary. Somehow it got changed around and now people come up with all sorts of spurious claims about it being “genetic” for girls and women to prefer pink. Quoi?). I’m also fine with girls playing with trains and boys playing with dolls; girls becoming scientists and boys becoming child minders; wives being the bread- winners and husbands the stay-at-home parent. From clothes upwards, what does it matter? Clothes have no relation to achievements- and those are what I am proud of in both my children.

Back to the clothes thing though. Basically, provided that the kids’ clothing is clean and activity-appropriate, I don’t give tuppence what gender my children’s clothing implies, or what people may think of me for allowing my children to dress as they currently do. At the same time, I’m not going to use my children to make some sort of a political statement.

I would like to leave my children’s clothing choices up to them. Peer pressure will I’m sure eventually have an effect on both my daughter and son and their clothes choices, but for now I’m happy for either of them to flash their ankles (or even knees) from under a dress, and let them enjoy the fact that, as a child, you can wear whatever you want and get away with it. And long may it last.