The recent advent of the femboy is perhaps rooted more deeply in masculinity than we may realize.

By Marissa Lee.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Replacements sang in their 1984 song Androgynous: “Here comes Dick, he’s wearing a skirt / Here comes Jane, you know she’s sporting a chain / Same hair, revolution / Same build, evolution / Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?”

The Replacements were quite right – as we exist in the proverbial ‘tomorrow,’ in big cities and online there is not so much a fuss over Dick’s collection of skirts rather than a celebration of it, to be found anywhere from high schools around North America to the TikTok For You Page, to the cover of Vogue.

Recent internet style trends in particular, in all their Gen Z boundary-breaking glory, have brought more young men than ever into the discussion of gender-fluid style, adopting the internet archetype of what is so lovingly referred to as the ‘femboy.’ A twist on what is commonly seen as ‘metrosexual,’ a term used to describe men that are effeminate in their stylings and meticulous with their aesthetic appearance, the femboy identity specifically adheres to the young men sporting traditionally female stylings, such as skirts, dresses, nail polish, and headbands.

The femeboys are not only confined to the internet, they have been propagated by some of the biggest names in music, including artists such as Young Thug, Jaden Smith, Kurt Cobain, and most recently (and notably), Harry Styles.

While this is certainly an advancement in mainstream stylings when compared to earlier times (say, the days of The Replacements), it’s important that we dissect what this phenomenon actually represents. The skirt and the dress have, for a long time, been mandatory and reserved for women. This was an intentional system that enforced a ‘proper image’ and discouraged women from working due to the restricted amount of activities women could perform in a skirt.

Enter underground and LGBTQ+ subcultures of the late 20th century, as the conversation about gender identity expanded, and individuals begin to dabble in the opposite sex’s wardrobe, albeit largely in private. It’s these preliminary and private discussions that occurred largely in the shadows of the LGBTQ+ underground communities. 

However, in modern times, this trend of the femboy and men in skirts is seen as ‘groundbreaking’ and a rebuking of toxic masculinity – why is this? Why is it that these straight men get to claim responsibility for breaking such boundaries, when in reality, this has been a long-occurring conversation amidst the LGBTQ+ community?

This occurs for a number of reasons – most predominantly due to the fact that, put simply, the goalposts of masculinity have been moved. The concept of strong (and, in turn, toxic) has to do with appearing in a manly fashion and abstaining from typically effeminate faculties – but it’s most deeply rooted in self-importance and command of attention. The man’s role in society has commonly been to be a hero, a breadwinner, and to, quite literally, wear the pants. 

It’s in modulation with the times that these goalposts move and adapt while still allowing men to enact a self-important masculinity. Wearing a skirt as a famous straight cisgender man does next to nothing for the conversation surrounding gender fluidity. If anything, it emphasizes the all-encompassing maleness. 

Take the case of Young Thug, for example, who sported a floor length ruffled skirt on the cover of his 2016 mixtape No, My Name is Jeffrey. The rapper was quickly hailed as being an eccentric fashion renegade who broke the boundaries of gendered fashion simply by wearing a skirt. Come 2020, the rapper has been quoted purposely misgendering Dwyane Wade’s transgender daughter Zaya, and saying that Lil Nas X was wrong to come out as gay during Pride Month. 

It’s a simple enough idea, men wearing skirts are opening the conversation for the others by normalizing the phenomenon, and it would be wrong to suggest they cannot wear what they please. But the question remains, is it straight men’s conversation to have? Is cis men wearing skirts merely another way of wearing the pants?