Possibly the strangest men's rights movement in history

Illustration for article titled Possibly the strangest men's rights movement in history

In the late 1920s, a peculiar confluence of fashion and fascism came together in England. The Men's Dress Reform Party, an outgrowth of the eugenics movement, agitated for men to dress in more beautiful, flowing clothing reminiscent of what they wore during the Elizabethan era. Mostly, this seemed to mean wearing shorts and kilts.


When they formed in 1929, the group noted:

Most members wish for shorts; a few for the kilt; nearly all hate trousers. Some plead for less heavy materials and less padding; others for brighter colours; but the villain of the piece is the collar-stud. A wail has gone up throughout the land; man is clutching at his throat and crying.

But what did this all have to do with eugenics, the pseudo-scientific study of improving racial purity and health through "good breeding"? British sociologist Simon Carter explains:

Articles supporting dress reform in the New Health Society journal argued that changes in men's fashion would bring out a male beauty – one that celebrated masculine grace and physique. The idea was that if middle class men could, through reformed clothing, become more beautiful then they would inevitably also be more attractive to women (i.e. potential mothers) and thus reverse the perceived evolutionary decline of the middle classes.

Basically, men needed to pretty themselves up for the sake of the (white, middle class) children.

Even in a time when eugenics was widely considered a legitimate science, the MDRP were a rather odd lot. Though they preached racial purity, they seemed more concerned with dressing up and marching around in adorable socks. Carter continues:

The main concern of the MDRP was that men's clothes were too tight, awkward and ugly and that, prior to the general adoption of dry cleaning, that men's outer clothing was un-washable: ‘we wear dark clothes which, as we nicely calculate, need not (as indeed they cannot) be washed, for they won't show the dirt'. Throughout the next few years the MDRP organised a number of events, such as: a Men's Dress Reform Day, which was to be free of processions and ceremonies but was to be ‘merely the wearing of hygienic dress in town (and everywhere else) the whole day by all who will'. Employers were urged to allow their workers to wear reform dress for the day; and a series of rallies were organised during which prizes were to be awarded for the most imaginative reform attire worn by a man. Indeed the summer rallies of the MDRP became regular events during the 1930s and the event of 1931, staged at the Suffolk Street Galleries, was attended by about a thousand people, including H.G. Wells.


Eventually, however, the MDRP fell out of fashion — long before eugenics did, unfortunately. Once the craze for pre-made clothing took over in the 1930s, it was much easier for men to get lighter fabrics that were more washable. And so the NDRP's clothing demands began to sound a bit out-of-date. By 1937, the BBC had started openly making fun of these racial purists and their shorts, and shortly thereafter the group disbanded.

Read more about the MDRP at Cost of Living




So is this where PG Wodehouse got his idea about Roderick Spode and the Blackshorts? (I get that they are a parody of the Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts, I never understood why they had to wear shorts.)