"We've become accustomed to accelerated improvements in technology, but it's amazing to see this kind of radical innovation applied to the once humble undershirt. It's a technological breakthrough that provides men with the means to re-structure and enhance both their inner perceptions and their outer representations of themselves in the physical world."Semiotics Cultural Theorist
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Tights for men - Women have been creeping closer to equality over the decades, but now men are getting their revenge
WHEN it comes to fashion, there are two things we can be sure of. First, things are rarely "new" in the true sense because trends are really only variations on a theme. Second, what starts off as a trend for women is increasingly being repackaged and rebranded to appeal to men. Call it clever marketing or the softening of traditional gender roles, but that's what's happening.
Making something man-friendly usually involves turning it navy, black, or if you want to be really reckless, grey, and then giving it some kind of jargon-heavy technical or pseudoscientific selling point - the more the product label can be made to resemble an instruction manual for a Nasa-level gadget, the better, is a rough rule of thumb. Pants become "climate controlled", elastic or a spot of Lycra become about "body mapping technology" and the best thing is if you can say it's "athletically tested".
To be absolutely honest, I'm all for a bit of unisex wardrobe action. I thought Marc Jacobs looked rather fine photographed in his high heels at a runway show in October, and "guyliner" can work wonders when applied in the right way. And it surely goes without saying that a well-worn "man bag" is practically de rigueur for the hip urban male these days.
Recently, though, there has been a change. I don't claim that my e-mail inbox is representative but, in the past week alone, I've had information about bras, tights and now control underwear - all for men.
So what's going on? Are they stealing our tricks? We look at the newest trends to ask where did this all begin - and, more importantly, where will it end?
IT IS the 1970s: Clark Kent did it first and chilly-kneed footballer Keith Weller of Leicester City, below right, did it next. Well, not quite, but there you have two early trailblazers in the pantheon of manly tights-wearers (I'm sorry, I just can't call them "mantyhose" as the jargon-loving marketing people have coined the garment).
My sister once got into a verbal scuffle with another mother at her child's nursery, when said mother berated her for putting her 18-month-old son in tights under his dungarees. I think the argument was something along the lines of "he'll grow up gender-confused if his fat little legs are kept warm". Preposterous.
That said, though, we don't naturally associate tights with men (unless they are appearing on stage at Stratford-on-Avon or playing Robin Hood, that is). But change is afoot. Some of the world's biggest lingerie manufacturers are now making tights specifically for men and, it's claimed, they're selling like hotcakes.
Sheer, woolly, footless or support hose - take your pick. You can get plain ones and even patterned ones to wear with shorts so that everyone else can enjoy them too. Apparently, German men have been wearing tights for many years and they've been appearing on Premiership football parks as the chill winds of winter have descended. Pascal Chimbonda, right, who was born in Guadeloupe and now plays for Sunderland, has been sporting white ones beneath his shorts. (What is it with footballers? If it's not tights, it's hairbands… ) Alas, no-one has yet explained how to deal with the hairs popping through.
& 149 www.e-mancipate.net www.comfilon.com www.tightsformen.com
THE MAN BAG
LET'S be practical - men need to carry things: car keys, mobile phones, mp3 players (I won't go as far as to suggest your guyliner and lip balm). Why shouldn't they carry a bag rather than stuff all of the aforementioned into their pockets, thus creating unsightly bulges (especially when you might be wearing support underwear to get rid of other unsightly bulges - see below)? But there are man bags and man bags. Men have been happily carrying around satchels or briefcases for years and apparently their masculinity has remained intact. But a new trend has emerged. Topman now stocks capacious tote bags, canvas shopping bags are slung over the shoulder of every environmentally friendly guy-about-town, and Jonathan Ross was recently spotted with a clutch bag under his arm.
Perhaps he was going to a fancy dress party as Austin Powers, but since he's hardly flavour of the month I think we can assume his party invites are few and far between, so we are left to suppose this was his idea of appropriate daywear. A step too far, perhaps (he was also wearing a bright red swing coat), but the fact is when it comes to what the discerning 21st-century man slings over his shoulder, it's in the bag.
& 149 www.mulberry.com www.topman.com
SPANX FOR MEN
HOLDING it all in with an undergarment isn't exactly a new phenomenon - corsets, girdles and trusses have been around for hundreds of years. But recently we've entered a bright new age of support undergarments that streamline us and push us into a shape that it would usually take many hours in the gym to achieve. Women have Spanx to tuck in tummies and create pert posteriors - and now men have Equmen's "core precision undershirt".
A range of vests and T-shirts which grip, pull and push your torso into that of a broad-shouldered, six-packed beefcake, these are no ordinary tops. "Engineered compression technology energises the body with essential structure and support," it says on the website. Well, who's going to sweat it out in the gym when you can pour yourself into a temperature-controlled simmet with added oomph? It's "developed in conjunction with physiotherapists, ergonomic consultants and athletic garment engineers" too. Impressive and not at all masculinity-threatening. Women never seem to need such assurances, but then they have Gok Wan shouting at them about "bangers". Each to their own, I suppose.
THE MAN BRA
OK, TIGHTS keep you warm, man bags are for keeping things in and support undergarments keep the flab under control. But a bra for men? What could the possible advantage of such a garment be? They're about support, aren't they? So, sorry for asking the obvious here, but what have men got that needs supporting up top? If the launch of a new range of brassieres for men in Japan is anything to go by, the question is immaterial. Japanese men, it turns out, have been snapping up the new male brassiere at a rate of 300 in the first two weeks. Well, it's coming up to Christmas, so for the man who has everything…