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The Day They Tried To Make Aussie Men Wear Skirts

Updated on August 27, 2009
Mayte, this skirt is riding up, mayte...
Mayte, this skirt is riding up, mayte...

I've always been for men wearing skirts if they want to, but nobody, male or female should have to wear a skirt against his or her will. The only possible outcome of forcing anyone to wear a skirt is rebellion in one form or another, as the mayors of the eastern shores of Australia discovered when they tried to make the male beach goers wear skirted attire.

How did all this come about? Well, those with Victorian values didn't like the idea of men or women bathing at Australia's surf beaches at all, and until late in the 19th century, it was simply not permitted. When people were finally allowed to go swimming, it was under strict conditions that they wear an appropriate costume. A swimming costume for men had to cover the body from the knee to the neck and had to be of a sufficiently dark color to ensure that when wet it did not become transparent and expose the terrible flesh tones of the body to innocent passersby.

As you may be able to tell just by this little list of requirements, the Victorians were repressed nut jobs when it came to the human body. Even the ones that had been deported out to the colonies for one kind of misdeed or another (perhaps coquettishly exposing the upper arm,) were sticklers for the rules, or were at least prepared to pretend to be sticklers for the rules.

Just kidding about the being deported for showing the upper arm. This was England, not the Middle East. You could show the flesh of the upper arm, as long as you were also demurely wearing several petticoats.

The colonial fashion rebellion occurred when the mayors decided that the men, who had recently taken to the sport of surf lifesaving, a sport which is now widespread across the world, but which had actually only just begun the Friday before the infamous skirted men protests of 20 October 1907, should wear a more modest bathing suit. The current bathing costume requirements were not enough, because they sometimes showed the protruding male appendage, so therefore men should also wear a sort of loose 'skirt' which would extend from the waist of the garment to the knees and hide the male member which was so often so vulgarly displayed when in a swimsuit.

This pushed the men of Manly, Bondi and Coogee too far, and on that fated Sunday, they turned up in their dozens, wearing not bathing skirts, but women's skirts and dresses. The uproar was fantastic. Within hours every paper had a representative at the beach. Men milled about in their skirts and dresses, chanting anti Mayoral slogans and frolicking in the surf to the amusement and amazement of other beach goers.

The scene was described in newspaper headlines thus: “‘Bathers in Skirts. Bondi Beach Parade. A Grotesque Turnout. An Immense Crowd’.

It's a testament to Victorian values that such a display was described as being 'grotesque', though to put it into context, a woman wearing a pair of shorts would also no doubt have been described as grotesque, not to mention a few other things too. At the time, a woman simply wearing a long bifurcated pants was a revolutionary act in itself.

Did the protest work? It most certainly did. Overcome by the sheer grotesqueness of it all, the mayors relented, bathing skirts for men were shelved and in time, the speedo clad Australian was born.

Thanks to Tom for the link to the original story upon which this article is based,


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