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Men in Dresses

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Not About Drag: Designer Jennifer Minniti makes masculine dresses for men who understand fashion.

Skirting the issue of sexy male apparel

By Jenn Shreve

If San Francisco designer Jennifer Minniti has anything to say about it, drag queens won't be the only men making a fashion statement in skirts.

"Basically, I make dresses for men," says Minniti, who has a master's degree in fashion history. "This whole idea was developed through the process of learning the history of clothing. Men haven't really adorned themselves since the 18th century. There was a time in the 1730s when women were very powerful in court. At that time men seemed to adopt all that was feminine. It was really a time when women's wear inspired menswear."

Now, Minniti says, things are quite the opposite. Women's apparel is often cut from the same cloth as menswear. "The women's suit is based on the same lines and cut visually as the men's suit, but it fits the woman. It makes her look very sexy, very powerful. I'd argue that men's suits don't do any of that for them."

Minniti believes that what we know today as basic menswear does little to show off the beauty of the male form. "We don't know the physical body underneath. All of the beautiful male form is not shown with a suit, and it's been like that for the last 100 years. What fashion does for the female figure is amazing, and it has failed to do so for men. And there's always this term androgynous dress, but I think that's a fallacy. It always means women wearing menswear."

Through her designs Minniti seeks to create styles that show off men's bodies in the same way fashion works to accentuate the curves and angles of women's bodies. Minniti studied the male body, looking for what aspects were the most appealing.

"I didn't just take a woman's cut and put it on a male body. What I did was construct dresses solely for the male body. That means taking into consideration the distinct differences in the male form." The result is indeed a dress, but a version of the female classic that is distinctly masculine.

"These dresses wouldn't look at all good on a woman. They wouldn't fit her," Minniti says. "It's not about drag. It's not about homosexuality. Most of the men I have inquiring about these dresses are heterosexual. Most are between 25 and 35. They're designers, they're architects--men who have a higher understanding of fashion."

One appeal, according to Minniti, is that men feel sexy and masculine in her designs. "As women we understand what a dress feels like, what it does for women--the sex appeal. Men can acquire the same attributes as well when they put on a dress. They feel very masculine. I don't put high-heel shoes on them. I don't even believe in that for women."

She adds, "I think it's really about the male redefining their sexuality. When I see a man in a dress made for him, it's almost as if we're witnessing the male body for the first time. It's almost a sense of liberation both socially and personally for the male body."

The question remains, of course, whether these dresses will catch on in the mainstream. Minniti predicts her styles will be part of a movement in which men adorn themselves with nail polish and other traditionally "feminine" fashions that have been adapted for men. "It'll take a long time to filter down," she says, "but you can see it happening."

"I have so many people who are interested. It needs to happen in fashion. Fashion always has some sort of revolutionary change, but for menswear it hasn't happened at all. It's really appropriate with the change of the millennium."

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From the March 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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