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Men in Tights
Max Mosher wonders if 'mantyhose' are really a thing

As a good child of the nineties, I grew up with Mel Brooks movies. The one we watched most was the original The Producers, which says a lot about what my Dad thought was appropriate for children. But I remember watching Robin Hood: Men In Tights pretty regularly as well. Girls of my generation swooned over Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, while boys laughed at him in Robin Hood.  (Some little boys swooned over him as well…)

Every time I see a story about male tights, I think of the titular song from that movie and men prancing around Sherwood Forest. Last year, it was all about meggings (leggings for men). More recently, a flurry of articles argued mantyhose (pantyhose for men) are destined to become the next big thing. I know people think they’re being clever when they attach ‘M’ to the beginnings of words in order to make them masculine, but all they end up doing is underscore the assumed femininity of the concept. When we say ‘manny’ we’re drawing attention to the fact that people assume nannies are female. It’s self-defeating and a bit offensive. We don’t refer to male nurses as “murses,” nor female doctors as “woctors.” That would be stupid.

Men have worn pantyhose ever since their invention, for warmth and to increase circulation. It’s only become a fashion story because of some savvy marketing by the company Emilio Cavallini, which has sold boldly printed pantyhose for men for the last couple of years. After a tongue-in-cheek article with WWD, sales skyrocketed. Mantyhose rose to 30 percent of Cavallini’s online sales in 2012. Where are all these men in tights?

“It’s definitely become a trend for men in Europe,” says Lisa Cavallini, daughter of the legendary designer. “It’s fun for them to wear … They wear the tights with shorts, under jeans that have holes, under pants to stay warm in colder climates, or just to lounge around.”

Ah, Europe. Just far away enough to be believable and difficult to disprove.

I would be ready to dismiss mantyhose as another gimmicky internet meme were it not for apparently sincere websites like Mantyhose.net, featuring articles, photographs, and advice for the male pantyhose wearer: “Be careful putting them on. Be sure to clip your toenails so that they don’t rip the delicate fabric.” 

Is this really a thing, though? Are men doing this? I agree that we undervalue the beauty of a shapely male leg (anyone who’s watched a drag show knows that), but I have practical concerns. Can I still use a urinal? Isn’t 40 dollars, which is what the Cavalini ones cost, too much for tights? Wouldn’t my own legs suddenly remind me of a grandmother or school teacher?

A few years back, I asked a friend at a party who worked for a clothing company about upcoming trends I should watch out for.

“The girlfriend look,” he answered. “You know how women wearing men’s stuff is called the boyfriend look? Well, this is the opposite–men wearing traditionally female items. Like leggings under shorts!”

It was unbelievable at the time, but now his comments seem prescient.

What’s interesting is that men actually did wear tights once upon a time, as evidenced by Robin Hood’s Merry Men. Okay, yes, Mel Brooks didn’t exactly go for historical accuracy, but from the Medieval era to the 18th century, men in the Western world did wear stockings. Men wore stockings far longer than they’ve worn jeans. They stopped wearing them only in the 1800’s when fashion became more starkly gendered. The roughly one-hundred-year period in which women wore dresses, florals, and pastel colours, while men wore pants and dark jackets, was a historical aberration, not the rule.

We may be entering an era of androgynous dressing, in which even the most feminine or masculine items can be worn by anyone. Women took the first step by wearing pants, coinciding with their demand for equal rights. By acknowledging that femininity does not equal weakness, men wearing traditionally-female items have taken the sartorial revolution to the next step. But perhaps I’m overthinking it.

“Surprise or not – many men do wear pantyhose as a regular clothing item,” states Mantyhose.net. “Why? Because they like it.” 

____

Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_

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