Leggings were being worn by men since the 1980s, here's Billy Crystal
A brief history of women's pants
In some cultures, as in parts of China or native Americans, women wore trousers for thousands of years – at least for work purposes such as in agriculture. In the West, working and farm women sometimes wore stockings alongside short skirts or short pantaloons for manual work, but most aristocratic ladies wore skirts, that remained rather long. Skirts were de-rigueur for all women in the West until the mid 19th century as public clothing. From the 1850s, movements began for women to have more sensible legwear, starting with pantaloons.
From 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller in the US designed pantaloon skirts that ended as loose trousers below the knees that narrowed in at the ankles, like fashions for Turkish women in history. These evolved into bloomers that were also symbolic of the struggle for women’s rights. Women’s pants became fashionable during the 1st World War before receding. They re-emerged in the 2nd World War, but only came to their own from the 1960s. It’s only in the last 70 years that it has become fully acceptable for women to have trousers in public, and since then, they have also morphed into leggings, though the aetiology probably benefits from stockings and hosiery, rather than trousers.
Leggings as such were historically a male garment, a type of trouser. Modern, tight leggings for women, emerged alongside jeans and trousers from the 1960s (e.g., from capri trousers) and the use of elasticated materials (nylon/lycra blends). Their comfort and elasticity made them extremely popular for women from the 1990s as athleisurewear. Figure hugging, often worn with ballet flats or trainers, leggings have proliferated from sporty dance and running gear to fashionable shiny and multicoloured designs that often emphasise the thighs and buttocks.
Leggings are fashionable for women
Leggings for men took off from 2000
These features have made leggings essentials in feminine fashion until the 2000s, when men have started to wear women’s style leggings too, alongside skinny jeans. However, men had been wearing leggings in a more sporting context earlier. Billy Crystal sported a pair in “When Harry Met Sally” from 19891. Both sexes, especially men, have questioned or wondered about the propriety of a man-bulge showing through them, though this was never a problem in ballet with stars like Rudolf Nureyev.
At the Marni Men’s fashion show in 2007, leggings designed for men were introduced, also called meggings (men’s leggings). In order to deal with the man-bulge issue, leggings for men could be worn under shorts or long t-shirts. K-pop male performers started wearing leggings from 2010.
Meggings have now caught on and leggings have moved in a unisex direction. Some leggings designed for women can be worn by men, like these side-stripe leggings from Marks and Spencer (pictured)2. It’s not necessary any more for men to hide their leggings under shorts or a long top, especially if they wear a good pair of pants underneath that will regulate any offending man-bulge: nothing to be offended by if Nureyev meant anything.
At the moment leggings tend to be active wear for men, but can be worn at work as I have done, working in a laboratory. They are especially good for walking, running and cycling as they don’t chafe or present any friction between the thighs as they move against each other, unlike trousers. In this respect, leggings are silent to wear. They can be worn with a t-shirt with trainers or even boots. Though very common for cycling and athletics, leggings as general wear for men is now opening up.
Leggings make great sportswear, apart from being women's fashion
Skinny jeans and leggings are now marketed at men, but why stop there?
This is in tandem with the uptake of skinny jeans by men (starting around 2010), including jeans that are distressed at the knees, which are now, quite commonly worn by young men. Several guidelines for men, to boost their confidence in opening up to leggings are now available3. In answer to multiple questions on sites like Quora (Quora.com) and elsewhere: Yes, men can wear leggings. They are versatile, practical and comfortable for sports, yoga and leisure. This is alongside a trend for men to wear nylon style hosiery, though this is most seen in sporty contexts and by young men experimenting with tights under shorts. Many older men do wear women’s style hosiery under trousers4.
As Will Greer stated on Quora in answer to, “Can a man wear leggings?”(2017): “I like the statement they make, which is actually one of masculinity. Many will say that its ok to not conform to gender norms, and that you shouldn't consider the masculinity of the garb. I agree with that, but I disagree with the notion that leggings, or tights, or unionsuits (onsies) are inherently feminine. I live in the pursuit of fitness. I try to maintain a muscular physique, including big quads, glutes, and hamstrings. I enjoy clothes that make these assets, pun intended, visible to the world. It makes me feel confident, which is noticeable as well. The daring act of wearing something seen as subversive is also taken into account.”
Well, they’re no longer subversive. They often do represent a fashion statement. Meggings, unisex leggings and some women’s designs are especially suitable for men, though the more floral or shiny ones are not as popular for public wear, except perhaps in athletic or dance contexts. At a time when the number of women wearing skirts in public is getting well below 50% to be replaced by jeans, pants, trousers and leggings (how quickly fashions have evolved), it looks like it has taken less time for women’s styles of leggings to be adopted by men. Their experimental use and adoption as popular everyday wear may take some time, but more men are wearing them as everyday clothing.
Women's pants have interesting names although they still remain pants. There's jeans and skinny jeans + leggings = jeggings. Typically look like jeans but without belt loops or pockets or front zip - leggings in disguise, though perhaps a bit less figure hugging. There's also leggings+trousers = treggings. Treggings are lose at the ankles and are just tight trousers without the zips, pockets and belt loops of conventional trousers. Starting with skinny jeans as the starting point, that moves towards leggings, men can also wear jeggings and treggings. Treggings look like tight trousers and work well with a lose top including a shirt or jumper - as the picture below demonstrates, they have a masculine touch.
Men's fashions are hopefully becoming more interesting, without them always having to put up with standardised conventions with limited choice in styles, fabrics and even colours.