For the benefit of those readers (or potential readers) who are new to the concept of men wearing sheer hosiery or tights, I've included some background information on the whole men's legwear trend. Hopefully, this can enlighten our friends in the media who have been so gracious as to cover this unusual direction men's fashion has taken of late:
Although men were the original wearers of tights, in the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Colonial eras, the custom eventually gave way to women, who adopted them as their own—so much so that it became socially unacceptable for men to wear full-length hosiery, as it had become viewed exclusively as a woman's garment.
That has changed considerably over the past 10 years or so. Not only have women abandoned sheer pantyhose to a large extent in favor of the bare leg look, men have re-discovered the benefits of legwear and constitute a small but vigorous market that shows signs of breaking out into the mainstream. The tide began to turn with the advent of the Internet and the instant communities that grew up around various interest groups. One of these included men who had been wearing women's tights and pantyhose to ease the discomfort of varicose veins and other venous insufficiencies, and for warmth without bulk in various outdoor situations. Discovering that they were far from alone emboldened some trailblazing men to create online discussion groups to help others overcome their fear of ridicule.
In this were the seeds of our company, ACTIVSKIN (http://www.activskin.com/) which started in 1998. Steve Katz, an heir to a defunct hosiery company, G. Lieberman & Sons, formed a partnership with his wife Constance and launched the company. Early growth was spurred by positive media attention from such institutions as the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times of London, who both took notice of the emerging trend back in 2002.
Since that time media attention has ebbed and flowed, ranging from sarcastic ridicule to enthusiastic acclaim. One notable characteristic of the media timeline over these past 10 years is an evolution of public perception. Initially, men's legwear suffered under the unfair and misleading stereotype of fetishism or cross-dressing. Some may have also associated it with homosexuality, but many gays who posted comments on those early discussion boards pointed out they had no more use for hosiery than did women. Over time, these unwarranted stereotypes have been peeled away to reveal that the vast majority of men who are wearing nylon legwear these days do so for fairly mundane, mainstream reasons.
Sales of men’s legwear have grown from year to year, despite the severe economic conditions of 2008-09. This is an early indicator that the shedding of the social stigma will lead to a tipping point in the trend in the not-too-distant future. Had the trend not been hobbled by such societal forces, who knows where the market would be today?
Why are men wearing legwear? There are many motives, but most do so for a handful of reasons. Our aging population is experiencing many of the problems associated with it, including varicose veins and venous insufficiency (poor circulation). While the support styles of hosiery sold by ACTIVSKIN does not provide medical-grade leg compression, it does ease the discomfort associated with milder forms of these conditions.
Men whose problems were not so advanced as to require the measured compression hosiery were limited in their options in the past. Now, they can wear a product that is designed for a man’s body proportions without feeling self-conscious about wearing ‘women’s’ clothing. Many men who wear support-style hosiery claim that is has prevented early symptoms of varicose veins from advancing to the point of more invasive treatments. Controlled studies have not been carried out to confirm anecdotal claims however.
Athletics is another major reason for the emergence of men’s legwear. The leg compression provides runners, cyclists and many others with more stamina. They are also beneficial on cold mornings when chilly air can lead to muscle cramps. With heavier running/cycling tights, when the athlete has warmed up and the sun comes up, it can be entirely too hot. Sheer compression hosiery is light-weight and breathable, and therefore minimizes overheating.
Outdoorsmen of all stripes have found a place in their wardrobe for sheer or opaque tights. Hunters, skiers, motorcyclists and all others who spend long periods of time out in the cold find that the little bit of added warmth makes a difference, without feeling too bulky like traditional long johns. Also, hikers and horsemen experience less chafing on their inner legs when they wear tights or pantyhose.
As with so many of our styles that originate in the sporting world and migrate into the general fashion consciousness, hosiery is no exception. While still somewhat rare, there are more and more men every day who decide they want to wear hosiery just because they like the way it looks or feels and why not wear them just because? It is truly a unisex garment, as each gender has the same number of legs. As with pants or shirts, they need to be tailored differently to fit the variations in body shape between men and women. Otherwise, there is nothing intrinsically male or female about nylon legwear. Society’s conditioned response that tights and hosiery equals feminine is only a hundred or so years old. As more ‘early adopters’ find the confidence in their masculinity to resist convention and wear what works for them, look for this trends to “get L’eggs” (pun intended) and really take off in the coming years.