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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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      ralwus 8 years ago

      Now this was very interesting. Good researching Hope. thanks for sharing, Peace, CC

    • profile image

      sbeakr 8 years ago

      Delightful article...I had no idea!

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      British Bloke 8 years ago

      British blokes have always known their Aussie bloke cousins have a bent for dressing like a Shiela: Dame Edna *is* Australia to us pommies. And over the years we have exported some of our best cross dressers to the continent's gene pool: Bob Hawke taught Tony Blair how to put on makeup (according to wikipedia). But I never thought Aussie surfer dudes had a desire to reveal what they had down under? You live an learn!

      Struth Mayte. Spray Kylie with another XXXX!

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      TMinut 8 years ago

      This is so funny! I know it's also serious and fraught with meaning and all that, but still...

      I DON'T agree that men and women should pretend there are no differences - there are and they're there for a reason. I used to wonder as a child why boy dolls looked no different than girl dolls; it was creepy and I never did play with them much.

      I'm no fan of speedos; neither am I a fan of women in skimpy suits or shirts that cover nothing. It's not because we should hide or desexualize people, just because certain body parts are for use in private ways not meant for public viewing. HOWEVER, this is swimming! Isn't it safer to wear as little as possible so there's less to drag you down?

    • Philipo profile image

      Philipo 8 years ago from Nigeria

      Its really funny. Thanks.

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      Gunnau 8 years ago from Central Coast NSW Australia

      It's funny how things go round in circles.

      Today Aussie Men (at least some of us)would love to be wearing skirts. Especially with a hot summer approaching.

      The Swimwear of choice has shifted as well.

      Once we as men were happy and confident to wear a skimpy nylon lycra brief to the beach but so much bad publicity plus people from modest countries and the younger women outraged by this, we are being shamed into wearing baggy shorts to the beach. A similar thing just happened in Merry Old England with a water park banning the speedo because it was deemed obscene. Lets not talk about the less than toned women squeezed into a similar material.

      It's a funny old place we live in.