It’s the Summer of the Romper—for men. But is the trend a protest or ploy?
By Natalie Washuta, Colgate University
Newsflash: Cam Newton’s at Coachella and most definitely not wearing his NFL-issued practice gear, but rather a “male romper.” How risqué! A revelation! A revolution!
Actually though, the male romper has been around for quite some time, and can be traced back to the 1960s when Sean Connery, the ultimate “man’s man,” wore a romper in his cinematic role as James Bond. Should this fashion statement have been left to the realm of Hollywood? Current business students at Northwestern University didn’t think so. Coining the term “RompHim,” these young entrepreneurs brought James Bond’s style off the screen, and on May 15, took their idea live with a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded their goal of $10,000 six times over in less than a day.
So, what allowed this trend to really take off? A garment that combines the top and bottom of an outfit in one piece, the romper was originally drafted for women in the 1900s and became popular with fashion-forward ladies who could pull off the look. However, the year is 2017 and a fashion upheaval has erupted, calling on men to change the course of fashion for the future. At long last, can we start to ask ourselves if all articles of clothing should be considered gender-neutral and appropriate for anyone?
Don’t get too excited—advertisers have already been marketing the RompHim as not only appropriate for men, but a statement of masculinity. Many still deem it “an infantilizing garment appealing only to girls in the prime of their youth,” so the male romper is not for the faint of heart, but the shining moment where society thought for a split second that it was breaking boundaries and binaries may be over.
At the start, the students who initiated this trend referred to it as a “passion project,” as they searched for a garment that offered men the same comfort and unique style as women have access to. Rather than being concerned with comfort and style, however, people are asking about the level of confidence men needed to have to successfully pull the look off. By “confidence,” these people evidently mean “confidence in their sexuality.” Whether gay, straight or otherwise, men wearing rompers need to be prepared to turn some heads. But, if someone ends up asking “Why are you wearing a woman’s romper?” they can just say, “Ahem, it’s called a RompHim.” Right?
Wrong. That’s just working backwards. We made leggings for men but coined them as “meggings,” since changing the word for an article of clothing by one letter would help sales. There are sunscreen bottles, hallmark cards, loofahs and even chocolate “for men” (and razors, pens and even ear plugs “for women”). The idea that “Real men wear pink” became somewhat of a campaign after the color was designated too feminine for men to wear. While the message should have been that “People shouldn’t be afraid to break gender stereotypes,” it was often construed as meaning “Real men, as opposed to fake men, show no self-doubt by wearing pink and asserting their masculinity in other ways, such as criticizing men who don’t wear pink for being insecure.”
In contemporary society, people get so caught up in fulfilling certain standards of both femininity and masculinity that even advertisements for clothing have to make assurances about a garment’s gender to appeal to their targeted demographic. The RompHim can’t be called a push for gender-neutral clothing while the terms “feminine” and “masculine” are still being thrown around; the garment has to take a feminine item of clothing and make it masculine, otherwise men wouldn’t wear it.
It’s honestly sad that men are so often taught that they need to be tough or else risk being scorned as less than. As a result, they feel as though their masculinity needs to be proven and safeguarded. Some even overcompensate, and “tough” begins to mean “insensitive,” and “assertive” begins to mean “aggressive.” This system not only perpetuates the idea that femininity is weak, overemotional and wrong, but also makes life a constant theatrical game of demonstration for men, which isn’t fun for anybody.
Basically, this gender thing is a mess. But whoever says a man can’t wear a romper for comfort’s sake, while remembering that decades ago women wearing pants was taboo, needs to wake up and get with the times. It’s the Summer of the Romper—for anyone who wants it to be.