- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

— Is a superhero in tights setting a new fashion trend for men? Or is it simply that some men find pantyhose a nice fit? With “The Dark Knight” comes a craze for men’s hosiery. Retailers in Europe and the United States say men have been buying pantyhose - sheer, satin, glossy, opaque or support - in skyrocketing numbers in recent months.

“We aren’t sure if it is the Batman effect or what, but sales to men have been going through the roof,” says Kieran Hughes, director of Precious Collections, a Britain-based distributor of hosiery products.

At Atlanta-based Luxelegwear. com, a Web site offering European brands to buyers in America and around the world, about 80 percent of sales are to men.

“Men have begun to dominate the hosiery market once owned by women,” says Deborah Ashley, managing director of Luxelegwear.com, which opened in September 2005.

The company carries 13 styles designed specifically for men.

Around the world, men have long taken their fashion cues from women, with many of them getting facials, manicures and pedicures from salons on a regular basis. Now more men are donning hosiery.

According to retailers, some men simply appreciate the added insulation in colder climates. Other customers say hose provide support, stimulate circulation and alleviate muscle fatigue. Still others just like the way tights look and feel against the skin.

Darrell Robinson, general manager of Legwear4Men.com, an online retailer in Liverpool, England, says today’s male hosiery is not a fetish garment.

“It has nothing to do with being gender-confused or gay, as the bulk of wearers are straight men in long-term relationships,” he says.

Although this is a recent trend, hosiery retailers emphasize the long history of male leg wear. Mr. Robinson says men have worn tights for centuries, with Romans giving their soldiers leggings to wear some 2,000 years ago.

“The trend continued until about the end of the 19th century, when the womenfolk stole the idea for themselves,” he says.

In the past few months, Mr. Hughes says, Precious Collections has seen sales of hose to British men jump from 300 pairs to 1,000 pairs a month.

“With energy prices going up and up, I think we’re going to see even more men around the world wearing these products,” Mr. Hughes says.

Not everyone is a fan of the trend. Natalie Theo, fashion editor at London’s Daily Mail newspaper, says the idea is ridiculous.

“It’s metrosexuality gone stark raving mad,” she says.

In recent weeks, Mr. Robinson says, Legwear4Men.com has struggled to keep up with demand for male hosiery while another Britain-based online retailer, MyTights.com, reports that its new men’s line sold out almost immediately.

Mr. Hughes says hosiery has long been a staple in Germany, where more than 50 percent of men wear tights.

“There are a lot of outdoor sports in Germany, and it can be cold, so that might be part of the reason,” he says.

Mr. Hughes says hosiery for men is designed with the male anatomy in mind, with more room between the legs and a fly in the front. Male hosiery also is typically longer in the leg and shorter in the waist.

“I’m an alpha male who is married with children, and I wear it myself,” Mr. Hughes says.

G. Lieberman & Sons of Granville, Ohio, began selling leg wear for men in 1999, and business has grown steadily ever since.

Owner Steven Katz says men have gotten over their “women’s wear” hang-up and started to realize that skin-tight leg wear is a good clothing option for a number of reasons.

“Keep in mind that women who wear hosiery mostly do it for appearance and fashion, whereas most men wear it for comfort and the benefits it offers, such as warmth, comfort, leg compression and support, protection from chafing and insects, and many other reasons,” he says.

The company offers more than 30 styles of leg wear for men, and another 12 styles are in development.

“Most men wear it under trousers, of course,” he says, “but more and more are beginning to wear it with shorts.”

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