What’s Under the Kilt? The Sexual Politics of Men in Skirts.

“What do you wear under your kilt?”

That’s the second most common question that I hear when I’m wearing a kilt. It’s a question that’s fraught with sexual politics. It’s a question that I’ve only recently been able to answer fluently.

So let’s start by addressing the question on its literal level; What do I wear under my kilt?

And the answer is, it’s none of your darn business.

Yes, I have underwear on (or bike shorts, if I’m riding). But you have no place to be asking me that question. It’s sexually harassing.

“But guys can’t be sexually harassed,” you say? Bull crap.

Put any guy in a skirt, and he’s gonna get asked questions that any woman would find harassing.



There’s historical context though that we need to be aware of, a tradition of men in kilts eschewing underwear.

The Highland Regiments of the British Army required that soldiers in kilts NOT wear underwear. The enforcement of this policy was an institutionalized act of sexual harassment and sexual hazing. Officers would inspect their men with a mirror on a stick to make sure they were “going regimental.” Like so much else in the military, it was intentionally demeaning and humiliating. Put any group of people through the same humiliating experience, and they’re going to bond. Shared suffering creates camaraderie. While it may not have been great for their sense of autonomy, it did make the Blackwatch bold on the battlefield.

12_going regimental QE2
Going regimental with Her Majesty.

But there’s also another Scottish tradition of kilted men in groups exposing themselves to women. “Flashing” is an act of sexual politics, an expression of dominance over a  minority. It’s not a tradition that I grew up with, nor one that I have any interest in participating in. But it’s a way that insecure men to feel a little more powerful. And of course, flashing is a lot more powerful and intimidating when a guy isn’t wearing underwear.

The curiosity of a kilt evolves from the fact that wearing a kilt is transgressive. While we can legitimately claim that kilts are masculine apparel, it is also true that Western Society associates pants with men and skits with women: Manly Pants. Girly Skirts. Women wear pants in part because it’s an attempt to escape the gendered inferiority of skirts. So when a man chooses to wear a skirt, we question his sexuality.

If a man is dressing like a girl, then obviously they must be fair game for sexual harassment. A girl in a tight skirt is fair game for undergarment speculation. (“She must be wearing a thong.”) A guy wearing a skirt is now fair game for sexual harassment. We wouldn’t demand to know if a guy was wearing underwear if he was just wearing jeans!

So the challenge, Gentle Readers, is how do we respond politely to undergarment queries when we’re wearing a kilt? Do we submit? Do we show and tell? Do we refuse?

What works for you?



    1. Hey Will, my apologies. I had grabbed your image out of my Facebook feed earlier this week, and you really hit the nail on the head with it! When I went back into FB to find it though, I wasn’t able to find it. I deleted it, as I’m not trying to piss anyone off. But if consent is available for the asking, may I use it, please?


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