David Steffen, 64, rides motorcycles, plays electric guitar and likes to hit the sauce on occasion with his party-animal wife, Patricia. He’s got six grandkids. He moved to Orlando from Chicago in 1975. He used to hunt hogs.
Steffen also likes to wear skirts; not kilts, sarongs or caftans, but skirts. Frilly skirts. Pleated skirts. Plaid skirts. All kinds of skirts. He says he looks good in them, and it’s liberating to boot.
“Skirting is enormous fun,” he says. “And you probably know as well as anybody that men don’t know how to have fun.”
He likes skirts so much that he’s created a flourishing home business sewing and selling them -– panties too, with full support for all the male parts -– to men and boys all over the world. He’s an activist, really. Trousers are tyranny. It’s time for men to be free. (And no, he’s not gay or a transvestite. Just a guy who knows what he likes.)
Steffen spends his days in a cluttered corner office in his quiet Waterford Lakes home. On a recent weekday, he took a break from stitching black lace ruffles to black Lycra panties, one painstaking row at a time, to talk about his work. Surrounded by lingerie in progress and pleated fabric destined to grace the hips of a man somewhere, he bemoans the prudish American mindset that pigeonholes men in women’s clothing as freaks or perverts.
“The rest of the world doesn’t give a damn what the United States thinks,” he says. “And I could honest-to-God do without the United States as far as business goes.”
“Skirting” isn’t just a paid hobby for Steffen. It’s a cause. He wants to challenge the way society addresses gender identity. With ready references to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Madonna, he’s on an oddly academic mission to help men reclaim the feeling of cool autumn breezes on their nethers.
If you think that idea is radical, or just plain gay, it’s because society has programmed you to think that. The fact is that prior to the 20th century, skirted garments and robes were commonly worn by men. Trousers as an everyday garment are an outgrowth of the industrial revolution; in other words, men today are wearing a modern version of workers’ clothing.
“Men and boys have been wearing skirts for millennia,” says Steffen. “The only thing left for men to do is to borrow from females. That’s all that’s left. They had no problem doing that their whole lives. I’m old enough to have been around when pants started to get to be a big thing. When my mother came home in a pair of pants one afternoon, I thought my father would grab her. And she did look hot.”
In the 1980s, a nonconformist revival popped up in the mascara-smeared gender-bending of the New Romantics, followed by runway revivals from the likes of Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood. And lest we forget, the skirt’s tartan sister, the kilt, is still worn by many a Scottish bruiser who could handily kick your ass.
It’s a lot easier to get boys into a skirt than men, Steffen says, because they haven’t yet been hardened by society’s attitudes on gender and dressing.
“It’s easy to get young boys into a skirt. It’s unbelievably easy. They just freakin’ jump at the chance to do it. But you get somebody with a little gray hair and they look at you like, ‘What, he’s crazy!’”
He spent 30 years as an emergency room nurse, long enough for him to become “sick of the sick.” He married Patricia seven years ago. He wasn’t hiding his interest in skirts when he was wooing her, either.
“I was wearing skirts when I met her,” he says. “I’m not trying to pass as a woman. I’m just stealing from her closet.”
She works for the Orange County Health Department assisting AIDS-related cases, and is, for the most part, tolerant of her husband’s fascination. (“She’s Irish, so pray for me,” he laughs.)
“But here’s the crazy thing,” he says. “When the check shows up, boy, she’s right there.”
In Steffen’s sewing space, a TV blares game shows. In the far corner of the office is a webcam, one he hopes will soon feed to an online hosting service, so that his customers can watch him making their skirts while wearing one himself.
For six years, Steffen has been building a web presence at his home-brewed website, www.skortman.com, which, with the aid of web traffic generators like StumbleUpon, has earned him more than a million hits. Sadly, the moniker “skirtman” was taken by a man who refused to sell the rights, so Steffen opted for the less revealing “skortman.” (He sews skorts too, but they barely sell.) He ships his handiwork to customers around the world, and boasts a 70 percent reorder rate.
“I learned how to sew years ago,” he says. “So I thought, ‘I’m looking for the $20 item. The $19.95, cannot live without it, got to have it `item`, and I’m going to make a ton of it and then we’re going to retire. Well, here I am at retirement age, and I still clip coupons.”
He sometimes crafts two or three garments by hand – at a hefty price tag of $50-$125 each – in a single day.
“It takes a long time. That’s one of the big problems with it,” he says. “If I got a big bunch of orders, I’d be screwed. So screwed. But it’s happened.”
Customers send in their particulars – measurements, fabric preferences, panties or skirts – then send a check or money order up front. Upon receipt of the goods, they often send him pictures of themselves, or their children, wearing his skirts and panties. He’s got a collection of such photos and he’s willing to share, in case you’re interested.
His is not a case of the shoemaker having no shoes; Steffen wears skirts most days, unflinchingly. That’s proven unsettling to the UPS guy, for one, who makes regular stops at his house. “You should see UPS when I open the door,” he says. “There are a lot of unfinished sentences. You get the look.”
He also gets the look outside the house.
“It’s so exciting,” he says. “You run into the blockheads every once in awhile, but most of the time it’s just a blast. Not only do I go around the neighborhood, I do my shopping in it that way. It’s just normal. People expect that of me. I’ve had them pull up and say, ‘What’s that you’ve got on?’ Like they’re blind.”
Men wearing skirts is all about a desire for mischief. It’s also about doing whatever the hell you want, societal mores be damned. (Though it can get you in trouble. Louisiana landscaper Jay Herrod ran afoul of an ordinance against indecent exposure in April when he was mowing his lawn in a short green skirt. He told authorities he had a problem with heat rash.)
“It’s the same as it is with everything else,” he says. “If you can pull it off and you’ve got the guts to do it, then do it.”
Just don’t do it without underwear, he pleads.
“Commando is so bullshit,” he says. “You haven’t got that much anyway.”
On March 1, Steffen exhibited his wares at a fashion show at Blush Salon on East Colonial Drive, where the cast of buff men sported skirts and bare torsos. The urban thump of house music mixed with body-painting and wine suggested a mainstream future for Steffen’s gear. Perhaps male skirts will be become the ultimate metrosexual accessory. Steffen wore pants to the event.
On my recent visit, though, he is wearing a skirt. And he’s thinking about some smoking future designs.
“I make some really horny stuff. Horny, horny shit,” he says. “Hard-on while I’m dealing with it.”
So guys, maybe it’s time to man up and drop your trousers. Never mind what the UPS guy thinks. Screw society and its repression. Let freedom ring. Steffen thinks you won’t be sorry.
“It’s an emotion that really taps into both the tactile sensation, `and` a visual thing,” he says. “It gives them a charge. It gives me a charge. It’s a lot of fun. More fun than most guys can handle.”[email protected]