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Page last updated at 10:05 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 11:05 UK

What sort of man wears mantyhose?


Mario Cacciottolo puts the new fashion to the public test

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Skinny trousers for men are everywhere. But how many will take the trend for figure-hugging legwear one step beyond, and wear tights? We road-test the look.

The ongoing battle for equality has returned to a familiar arena - fashion - with a new clothing range on sale at Selfridges in London.

Mario Cacciottolo wearing mantyhose outfit
What the well-dressed man will wear this season. Apparently

But the short skirts, skimpy tops and leggings by fashion brand Unconditional are not designed for the feminine frame, but for men. Unsurprisingly, the leggings are jokingly referred to as "mantyhose", despite bearing little similarity to pantyhose.

This foray into androgyny is nothing new, however. Men habitually wore tights several centuries ago, and kilts have always been regarded as masculine.

Footballer Keith Weller famously sported white tights during an FA Cup game for Leicester City in 1979, motivated less by the freezing weather than the hope that these would ease a groin strain.

Unconditional's designer Philip Stephens says his leggings for men can be worn any which way, to make a statement or to provide warmth as the days shorten.

"You can wear them under shorts or full length or three-quarters. People will buy them as an alternative to long johns, which only come in white and go up under your armpits. We do a range that go from pink to black."

Passersby check out Mario's threads
A lot of people have their own style, I can see it working on somebody
Anthony Hagan on Mario's look

Nor does he think men should be embarrassed to adopt a garment so very popular with women. "They're a bit mosh pit, a bit rock and roll, reminiscent of Seattle grunge. Kurt Cobain used to wear leggings under a nightie. If it suits you, wear it. Women are wearing power suits now."

But what to wear mantyhose with?

"You could wear a tuxedo jacket, T-shirt and then the skirt and mantyhose too," says Selfridges buyer Adam Kelly.

For me, he picks out a daywear ensemble of a sleeveless top, pleated skirt and, of course, the mantyhose.

I look rather like an extra lost between the sets of Mad Max and Fame.

So what do the public think? Out on busy Oxford Street, heads turn.

A dapper young man with oversized sunglasses, waistcoat and trilby comes up to ask if I'm wearing mantyhose - he's Anthony Hagan, a 22-year-old student from Tufnell Park, London.

"I think the top's really rad [radical] but I think the skirt's a bit much," he says. "A lot of people have their own style, I can see it working on somebody."

Model in skirt and tights in 2002 fashion show
Others have tried to kickstart the trend

By which he clearly means somebody else - not me.

Jennifer Blake, 21, and Helena Ceadel, 20, of Chiswick, are somewhat less positive.

"It's not even like a kilt. It's like a netball skirt," says Jennifer. She gasps at the suggestion her boyfriend might wear similar garb.

"He would just never, ever wear that," she insists.

Helena is equally unimpressed. "If I had a date with someone and he arrived wearing this, I would keep on walking and pretend I didn't know him."

Steve Newman, of ActivSkin Legwear for Men which sells in 77 countries, says there are physical benefits to wearing mantyhose - although he means nylon tights, rather than my new leggings.

"Men complaining of tired, achy legs are often referred to the women's hosiery department for support pantyhose if knee-high support socks don't help," he says.

"People no longer assume a man wearing nylons under his shorts is a cross-dresser."

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