As most of you know, centuries ago, tights were invented by men and for wearing only by men. It would be much later on when fashion trends would change and tights for fashion would be sent to the closet (they would continue to be worn by both men and women in ballet and in costumes, though). Then, in the 20th century they came back out of the closet, but this time only on women’s legs as fashion limits were pulled back on full length dresses and skirts. Tights, stockings, and pantyhose were all tailor made for the various proportions of women, and so they became strongly identified as a woman’s garment. For a man to wear tights as fashion would instantly be considered silly and effeminate.
This trend is now changing, as tights are shifting into a more unisex role. Certainly this is already the widely accepted case in athletics, as we see the legs of both men and women sheathed in Lycra, and nobody points to the men saying “cross-dresser!”. But of course, running tights are made specifically for each gender, as there are different proportions to consider (very important when it comes to freedom of movement in sports).
And so… what about fashion tights made for women, worn by men? It has been going on for years, clandestinely underneath the trousers of men. They help keep the legs warm, increase the glide effect of pants across the leg to reduce binding, and with tighter fitting hosiery there is a circulation benefit. For the average male up to 5’8″ and weighing 160lbs or less, the tights made for women will fit just fine. That’s the advantage of stretchy synthetic fibers. But for the taller male, that advantage is lost… because when moving to that higher size bracket, the “5” or “XL”, most women are not 6’/183cm tall. They are shorter and more rotund. It’s the overweight problem we’ve been seeing on the news, particularly in the USA. And so hosiery companies had to adjust. Thus, when the taller male looks to the larger size of women’s hosiery, it’s very difficult to find tights that will fit (but they are out there in small numbers, as I’m finding).
Some people would still object to the idea of a man wearing tights that are marketed for women, regardless of the circumstances. Now, if the tights in question are in a bright pink color or have a frilly lace waist band then sure, that’s very effeminate and a straight guy really shouldn’t wear them (just as he shouldn’t go around wearing flamboyant colored jeans). However, right now there are hosiery makers producing tights specifically for men, tailored for the male anatomy and in conservative colors. Many of them are seriously well made, too. But… this is the beginning of the trend. The choices are rather limited at this point. What about patterns, like argyle, pinstripes, and cable-knit? We don’t see these yet, although I imagine we will down the road (maybe in another couple of years).
The fact is that women have a 50 year head start over men on tights for fashion and comfort. As such, there is an enormous range of colors, styles and thicknesses available to women. Plus, due to the huge volume of sales, the price per garment is going to be lower. The tights available for men right now are like high end women’s hosiery. They are very good quality, but they are also relatively expensive. Sometimes you just want to wear a less expensive pair, or different pattern/color. The good thing is that the opaque tights made for men are very durable, more so than the ones typically made for women. At least this is what I’ve been reading about so far, and I plan to eventually experience this first hand.
I do realize that there are some men out there who aren’t wearing tights for just comfort and warmth… and it’s unfortunate that those people make a strong negative impression for men who are wearing them only for comfort and warmth. I expect that in time the differences will become much more clear, and that we’ll see tights for general wear begin to take on a more unisex role. The men wearing them will feel normal and be treated by the general public as such. I’m confident it will happen in due time, but until then I’m just thankful we’ve gotten as far as we have right now. 🙂