Men in tights: how chaps are reclaiming hosiery09:34:00
Last week I set off on a two-days-and-two-nights tights-wearing odyssey. Why, you ask? Because tights for men are a thing. I know this for two reasons: first, because I had coffee with the author of Hosiery for Men, a blog built on the premise that men do wear hosiery. And second, because I spoke to Dawn Barber, managing director of the “Earth’s biggest hosiery store” UK Tights, who assured me: “We sell a great many tights to men. About 40% of our business is with men.” Which sounds ridiculous to me, and yet apparently it’s true. Also – I have come to understand – not only are tights nice and snug, but they were originally intended for us men anyway, in all our swashbuckling Tudor glory.
So while three chaps in men’s leggings may have been laughed out of the Dragon’s Den last weekend – “it’s like a natural progression from the skinny jean,” pleaded the would-be meggings moguls, “this is just the next stage of the evolution” – men’s tights, which are different in that they are worn under another layer of clothing, are flourishing.
Hosiery appeared in Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 15 show, in under-cloak form on the television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and even in French footballer Paul Pogba’s extraordinary just-popping-down-the-Field-of-the-Cloth-of-Gold ensembles. “Tights for men are not just for cross-dressers, I might add,” says Barber. “We sell to joiners, builders, police officers, milkmen, postal workers, mechanics. People who work outside – and because we have a lot of bad weather here, we sell lots of the thicker ladies’ tights to these people too.”
I meet the man behind “Hosiery for Men” in a cafe in London. He’s a softly spoken, thoughtful bloke – middle-aged, married – with tights under his trousers, and a Crystal Palace beanie, and he wishes to remain anonymous. His interest in tights was piqued, he explains, in his early teens: “When I was 14, 15 – probably not an uncommon experience – I wore them in a Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I was surprised by how comfortable they were, how good they were to wear.”
After that he started treating himself to the occasional pair of tights, long before the advent of internet shopping: “If one wanted to buy some tights, one had to go to a department store, which I didn’t find very easy when I was younger. Although no one ever said anything, and I do recall one or two assistants actually being very, very helpful.” Nowadays, of course, with the anonymity of the online marketplace, anyone can indulge themselves in whatever they want without any awkwardness, and this is exactly what I decide to do. Upon Hosiery for Men’s advice I order a pair of men’s tights from Activskin, in black, and a pair of women’s tights – his favourites – from Falke, in navy.
On the first day I try the men’s tights, they prove comfortable and warm –maybe too warm – but I wear them to the office over my pants and under my trousers and socks – later I discover that socks with tights is considered a terrible faux pas – without any worries. It’s comforting to have clothing that comes up over your waist and, because they hold your tummy in, slimming too. I almost play football in them before realising it’s indoors and I will possibly perspire to death.
These men’s tights also come with a handy Y-front-style opening at the front, not that I ever use it for anything. I wonder if Thomas Cromwell had one of these too?
The morning after I try the luxury women’s tights and they’re much nicer – of course. So soft, so silky, the sort of thing Marie Antoinette might wear. That day I visit the dentist, appear on a SHOWstudio discussion that’s broadcast live, go to a house where someone tries to wrestle me, crash a party that I’m not invited to, and at no point does anyone notice that I’m wearing tights. The fools.
So, still in my ladies’ tights, I ask Hosiery for Men if he’s a pervert and he says he’s not: “I like how they feel, I like the warmth, I like the support, I enjoy wearing them. Clearly there is a fetish element for some people; I know that because every now and again someone follows, or sends something that is completely, just, not what I want …” Such as? “Blokes showing their cocks, in tights and stockings and things like that.”
“Often it’s silly, there’s a slightly sniggering perspective that sometimes journalists take,” he says, a man all too familiar with my writing, “rather than accepting that maybe there shouldn’t be so many gender boundaries in fashion. Because of course tights were men’s clothing originally. You only need to go to an art gallery to see that from the middle ages onwards hose was always very accepted. But in the 1960s, especially, when hosiery technology was developed more and tights became popular with women, they kind of replaced stockings, and since then they have been overwhelmingly aimed at women.” Well, no more. Men, it’s time to reclaim our tights!