Sebastiaan Vermeulen went viral after sharing photos of his homemade outfits—including skirts and dresses that fall outside what might be considered traditional menswear. Sebastiaan tells Men’s Health why he started making his own clothes in the first place, and how experimenting with gender-fluid fashion has helped him express his masculinity.
A couple of years ago, my wardrobe was exclusively plain T-shirts and dress shirts, and I realized it reflected how I viewed myself; very vanilla, not bad, but kind of boring. I decided that my self-image needed work, and I started hitting the gym. Soon my shoulders outgrew my wardrobe, and as a somewhat tall fellow with a slim waist, I found that my off-the-peg options were all incredibly boxy and baggy. Hiding my body in loose-fitting shirts wasn’t helping me improve my self-image, so my epic wife made me a form-fitting bright red shirt.
Before I knew it I was making myself a second shirt, and then it hit me: I could make whatever I want. Deep V-necks, boat necks, open backs, sleeve length and sleeve style, long shirts, crop tops, I could go nuts. I soon learned I didn’t actually know what does or doesn’t look good on me because I never thought beyond the men’s section at H&M. So I started experimenting, and things grew from there. I have made myself shirts, sweaters, dresses, skirts, a kilt, and now I am thinking about making a short blazer with a proper V shape. I also made some dresses and skirts for my wife and daughters.
Come summer 2019, I had gathered confidence wearing my own queer shirts but I hadn’t made any pants-less outfits yet. Then we were invited to a wedding where the dress code was “creative black tie.” Now I don’t like the way I look in a suit, and I was dreading wearing a three-piece in 95 degrees. Knowing the bride, I was half expecting some of the guests to show up in a kilt anyway (one did), so I finally decided to take a leap and make myself a sleeveless dress. I was so nervous when we got to the church, but I left my suit at home on purpose so the only way was forward. By chance, the dress matched the wedding’s color theme, and the bride and groom loved it. I think I made one or two in-laws a bit nervous, but that didn’t stop everyone from having a blast, and they warmed up to the idea in no time.
After that initial good experience I had the confidence to go more public. First at date night with my wife, then to work, and out and about in the city. My wife absolutely loves it. Of course I stand out, so I sometimes catch people inconspicuously glancing at me, but I just ignore it. Frankly, it surprised me how many women I catch these days sneaking a peek at my legs.
So far, no one has given me trouble; honestly I think most people just respect the guts it takes to go out in such unconventional clothing. If you own the choice you make, no one can lay a finger on you without looking insecure about their own choice. In fact, I sometimes get genuine compliments from random people in the street, which is a great feeling.
Like so many of us recently, I’ve been reflecting on what I think it means to be a man. It bothered me that I would not think twice about seeing a woman in a suit, but somehow the idea of a man in a skirt was just not done. I think many men can relate to this. It’s a principle that applies to many gendered traits and habits. If it’s OK for a woman to take on “masculine” attributes, but a man with so-called “feminine” qualities is socially unacceptable, that creates this subtle notion that men are socially more desirable or worthy than women. None of us actively wants to send that message, but its there nonetheless.
I hated that idea and I wanted to act against it. I realized the only way how this could change was if men started openly embracing traditionally feminine characteristics. So I decided to discard all my prejudices and try things I would not have considered before. I was already making my own shirts, so this was a logical place to experiment.
I was inspired by the gender-fluid style of Jaden Smith; he is proof that a man can look just plain good in a skirt. David Bowie definitely also deserves an honorary mention, of course. When I think up new ideas, I always try to balance the tough and the delicate. No one plays around with these concepts like Ann Demeulemeester; she will hit you with heavy boots, dress pants and a lace tank, and it will look great. I also really like how Jean-Paul Gaultier can take a fancy classic and switch pants to a skirt without really altering the look.
My first dress had a medieval vibe kind of by accident, but for later projects I actually let myself be inspired by history. An easy example would be the Scottish kilt or a gladiator-style skirt. None of this is new. When the French reigned over Europe, every man with status wore tights, puffy shorts, and high heels or thigh-high boots, and on some level that look still works. I’m not going to cosplay Napoleon any time soon, but I like taking elements from these looks and giving them a contemporary spin.
If you want to make a dress for yourself, I have some practical advice: get the right cut for your body. Women’s dresses often have waist seams and bust seams that accentuate a female figure. If you want to accentuate your V-shape, you’ll need to space the shoulder seams further out, and the waist seam probably needs to go down a couple of inches.
This really is one of those “you have nothing to fear but fear itself” situations. Most people are going to be just fine with your choice! This is so easy to forget, but most people are just like you: understanding, considerate, and friendly. If someone does get upset over your outfit, too bad for them, you can’t always please everyone. I would start in a situation where you feel relatively safe, perhaps together with a partner or close friend, and build up from there. Once you have some public experience, you will quickly get more comfortable. I don’t think twice about how unusual my outfits are these days.
If you stay true to yourself and own your choices, most people will accept you just fine. You know you are going to stand out, so you will have to accept the fact that some people will be surprised at first or ask questions, but you have every right to expect them to remain decent and in my experience they do. They are just curious, so have a respectful answer ready for respectful questions. In the end, it’s the same you, just a different piece of fabric. If someone would value you differently all of a sudden, that doesn’t reflect very well on their character, and you should consider that before you value their opinion.
Where I live in the Netherlands, I have only ever seen two other men casually wearing dresses in the street, although I hear it is slowly spreading. When I started wearing dresses, multiple friends and acquaintances started confiding in me that they love wearing dresses at home because they are so comfortable.
Most men still dress conservatively, but many seem to realize that conservative invariably also means uninspired. Men around the world have started looking for ways to express their identity more accurately and openly, and that means thinking outside the box. Just look at /r/malefashionadvice, where 3 million people are searching for a better way to present themselves. The purse is slowly spreading among men, although we still have to call it a “murse” because of our fear for association with femininity. Sports leggings are another example, and skinny jeans of course!
After my pictures of my outfits went semi-viral on Reddit, I was overwhelmed by the positive responses; people seemed to love the idea, and said they hoped it would become more mainstream. Others were more critical, saying the garments didn’t really qualify as a dress, but more of a longline T-shirt or tunic. We ended up having a discussion on where the line should be, but frankly I think that is missing the point; they are selling oversize sweaters and long shirts in the womenswear aisle too. I don’t care if we call it a dress or a long-shirt-no-pants, I think it looks good, I know the fit is great, so I will wear it. If calling it a long shirt helps spread the idea, let’s call it a long shirt!
These days, I try not to think anymore in terms like feminine and masculine. I am not just “a man”, I’m Sebastiaan. I might tear up at a sad movie, and I wear dresses because I love how they look and they are unimaginably comfortable. I also love pumping iron to challenge myself and I love wood and metalworking because there is no feeling like making your own furniture. Exploring all of my sides, feminine, masculine and otherwise, is an on-going process, and it’s a journey I expect to be on for the rest of my life.
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