"We must not forget also that they can feel fabulous on!”
In the 20s, there is a mini revolution in fashion as online platforms make clothing ever more accessible and “gender neutral fashion” is on the rise1. In one sense, this means clothing marketed at one gender that’s frequently worn by the other or clothing that is not necessarily as gender specific as may initially be assumed. Several platforms are releasing unisex underwear2.
Fifty percent of male underwear at M&S, a British, fashion institution, is purchased by women2. It is not clear if they are buying them for the men in their lives or for themselves, though the former must feature strongly. It is also clear that women do buy men’s underwear for themselves for a number of reasons3,4 including the fact that some are tomboys or find them more practical and comfortable.
According to some commentators, men’s clothes don’t exist, all male clothing is effectively unisex5. Just try buying a T-shirt and you may find that there are two styles, unisex and a women’s cut. This situation is less so for women’s clothing – women’s clothing caters for their breasts, maternity requirements and for periods, factors that cannot be denied. Women enjoy their clothing and lingerie and relate to them in ways that don’t necessarily apply to men. Consider the following panty review by a Mayse from Bakewell on the M&S website in reference to cotton rich midi knickers6:
“Been buying these for some 45 years, they have changed a bit but nothing significant. Even the price has been maintained, I only buy these. They fit well and last forever. What more could you want from a brief. M &S are known for their underwear, once sat by a pool in Florida talking to an American who after asking where I was from went on and in praising M&S underwear. I’m not good at washing whites so always buy black so can’t comment on colour fade on those or other colours but the black does not fade at all. So longevity, great fit, comfortable so what more can I say Truly amazing brief reckon ill be buried in them.”
It may be a first to consider being buried in one’s favourite panties. Today the same forces that are driving women to male underwear for personal use are driving many men to try women’s underwear. This need not imply drag or crossdressing but an embracing of women’s fashion by men for practical and aesthetic reasons. Although male users of lingerie may be less vocal about their choices than women, this trend seems to be increasing.
Here is revealed how a selection of retailers react to men buying women’s hosiery including pantyhose/tights, stockings and holdups. Just how many men buy and use women’s hosiery? The statistics vary considerably but the best source for hard data are retailers themselves as men may not generally admit to wearing women’s hosiery.
I was recently selling women’s tights on Ebay and 30% of the customers of the first batch were men (I’m now on a second batch of sales and the cumulative percentage has gone down to about 25%). These purchases seemed to be for personal use. There’s enough discussion on men buying women’s panties on multiple sites including Quora. Many men find them more comfortable than the male equivalent or more practical and this is attested in multiple sites such as reviews on M&S (another article by this author here). There is less commentary available on hosiery and it is useful to highlight retailer opinions largely sourced from interviews on Hosiery for men, a blogsite by an anonymous author/s dedicated to reviewing hosiery in a male context.
Itsocks retails women’s hosiery. Anna Oldbury suggests that men are buying hosiery and she welcomes their custom:
“We have some regular male customers who like the tights we offer and give us feedback on which tights they would like us to stock. We also receive enquiries from male customers who would like to buy tights for themselves but are not sure which tights would be most suitable. We welcome male customers and hope to grow the selection we can offer to them.”7
Tracy Kruger from Legware Safari, a South African retailer that works with several brands is among the most effusive:
“Our customer base has a large amount of male customers – around the 40% mark, which is fantastic! We welcome and encourage our male customers to engage with us, talk to us and provide us with feedback so we may assist them in making the right purchase.
We have a small percentage of male customers who purchase under the guise of buying for someone else, but a large number are quite open and comfortable with us knowing that they are purchasing for themselves, which is a huge compliment for us.
Although South Africans in general are quite open minded as a culture, there is still a somewhat timid approach, when it comes to men purchasing hosiery to wear for themselves. It is certainly not as common practice as it is in Europe, but as more and more men start feeling comfortable with the idea, so will everyone else.”8
“Silky Silky and Falke are high up on the list in terms of popularity with our male customers. Pamela Mann coming in as a close third. Sheer to waist is currently our most popular seller with the men all year round. But most definitely our sheers are top of the list. Sheers in white, nude or champagne with a lesser demand for navy or black.
People seem to forget that once upon a time it was men who wore tights – it was an essential part of every man’s wardrobe. In recent decades we may have all been socialised in believing these are now solely garments for a woman’s wardrobe. Some people are not comfortable with the concept of men wearing tights are immediate label them as gay or a cross dresser…or all sorts of things.
Where people got the idea that wearing hosiery is an indication of sexual preference is beyond me. Everybody from ballet dancers to cross dressers to nurses, teachers, and students, moms, dads and your gran wear tights.”
Kruger recommends hosiery for men because
“Warmth, comfort and support are the main reasons I would say men should try tights. Winter can be seriously cold and if you are on a motorbike in the icy morning traffic trying to weave your way to work, a nice pair of thick opaque’s will save your sanity!
For men that stand or sit all day, support hosiery for circulation is a must. Office bound desk jobs are very much a reality for everyone these days and while sitting is the new smoking a pair of support hosiery could really help with that horrible achy leg syndrome keeping you awake at night.
Men who travel a lot could really benefit from our anti-fatigue range from Falke: we sell a large amount to the local air hostesses so that speaks for itself.”9
Claire from Love Your Legs, an online hosiery retailer acknowledges
“Yes we have male customers. Our website was only launched in September last year  and approximately 15% of our sales are to male customers. As we get more established we will hopefully see a rise in this number. We also have feedback from stores that some men do buy our products.
It is fantastic that there is greater visibility of men wearing tights in the media. After all, historically men were the first to wear tights. Anything which encourages anyone to wear exactly what they want is useful.”
She echoes Kruger on the utility of hosiery:
“The main benefits of wearing tights are comfort, coverage and warmth.”
But she is rightly sceptical about tights specific to men:
“We would consider stocking men's tights in the future as this is a growing market. However our research does show that most men prefer women’s tights as they are better quality”10
Eve from Eve’s Legwear repeats the historical caveat that tights used to be part of the male attire. She welcomes male customers and advocates tights for them as follows:
“Men have been wearing tights for centuries. In my opinion there is no reason why this should change. If a male chooses to wear tights it is his prerogative and he shouldn't be discriminated against for doing so. Men who wear tights come from all walks of life from the fishermen wanting to keep warm on the river bank to business suited executives. Each and everyone of them has a right to wear tights if that is their preference”11
Jenny Bryant from Stocking’s Direct, another retailer says:
“If men are thinking about trying tights for the first time we would recommend they think about what it is they would like to get from the products. They can provide extra warmth and a more refined appearance compared to socks. If you spend lots of time on your feet then they can help with circulation. Cosmetically they can vastly improve the look of your skin. We must not forget also that they can feel fabulous on!”12
Legware Safari product statement for male customers
"they offer a completely different view point ..."
From 10-40% of hosiery is purchased by men for personal use and in sophisticated markets where cross gender approaches to fashion are strongest. This trend is increasing. This is not necessarily driven by a transgender movement given that perhaps less than 5% of men are engaged in full cross-dressing let alone being transexual5. Most of us just want to improve our lives and introduce a little spice and vitality in our fashion explorations in a way that may progress our goals and objectives and take away negative feelings like being cold or lonely. Retail comments from sites like Hosiery For Men help illuminate current trends in a world where men are daring to enter territories long frequented by women. Men don’t use and treat hosiery the same as women but have their own reasons to try them from practicality and warmth to comfort and as relatively alien clothing to enhance activities like exercise and outdoor work. It is clear that manufacturers and retailers welcome male customers and appreciate that many men prefer clothing designed for women. These may underpin the superior fabric technology and thought that goes into women’s intimate apparel more so than for menswear. The bulk of hosiery will always be for women, often exclusively, but a trend in which they are also seen as somewhat gender neutral or suitable for men’s needs is now both accepted and growing. Tracey Kruger speaks for many hosiery retailers:
“Our male customers are very important to us; they offer a completely different view point to our female customers and shop in a completely different way to women. Which in turn makes us think differently and completely changes our way of working, planning and sourcing – making it that much more progressive.”9