Not so recently, I separated from my wife and my love for tights re-emerged. At first, I bought tights for men, mostly ordering compression tights. I learned that they helped after sports, and that was my excuse. Eventually, I noticed that my sneakers looked odd when I wore my tights. So, I ordered heels. Then, my shorts looked odd with my tights and heels. I decided to order some skirts. I tried to coordinate my t-shirts with my skirts, but sometimes they were mismatched, so I started ordering dresses.
You would think this was easy to do. It wasn't, so I had to rationalize it. I first started with the simple question of "Why could women wear menswear, but men couldn't wear womenswear, even if they were designed for men. Sure, some people did, but they were usually rich, famous, trendsetters, or trying to be. Having studied some Latin in high school and Art History at University, I knew the Greeks and Romans wore what the modern man would now call a skirt or a dress (Yes, I know the Romans wore other clothes under the toga, but you know what I mean.) Even before I started feeling gender fluid, I had studied fashion during the ages, usually the medieval and Renaissance ages. That's when I noticed that men in paintings were wearing clothing that would now be considered feminine: tights/leggings, wigs, makeup, heels.
At this point, I want to mention that people, until the Industrial Revolution, either made their own clothes or had someone make them by hand. This affected the cost of what people wore.
We'll start with skirts and dresses first. I mentioned earlier that the Greeks and Romans were known for men wearing what could be attributed in modern times as being dresses or skirts. They were long or short and flowed, in other words, there was no meeting of the material in the crotch area. Even the Roman cohort was depicted as wearing plated (not pleated) skirts. The Romans incorporated the Greek culture into the Roman Empire, so what caused "skirts" to disappear from clothing men could wear?
Well, the Romans had a few problems with a few tribal barbarians that in the end overran the Empire. Guess what they wore? Trousers. In Roman sculpture, the Germanic tribes were always depicted as wearing trousers. Once they overran the Roman Empire, Roman clothing was viewed as decadent and weak. As an example of the remnants of Roman male clothing, look at any Roman Catholic priest, as they are a remnant of that era.
Next, we'll discuss tights and hose, my original weakness. Prior to the age of fashion, cloth tubes or animal wrappings around the legs were the best way of keeping the legs warm. So, the Germanic barbarians that removed skirts from clothing that men could wear, introduced wrapped cloth around the legs. Over time, as cloth from the East and methods of sewing cloth improved, the wrappings started looking more like modern tights. The Renaissance has many paintings that depict men in tights. As the Renaissance progressed into the Enlightenment, stockings became the preferred legwear of choice for men. With stockings, they used their knee-length trousers as garters or in some cases they
actually wore garters.
Next, we move on to heels. Heels are currently the epitome of female sexuality. However, did you know that heels were originally reserved for men? Heels were a weapon that warriors originally wore as the invention that allowed horse riding cultures to rise up in their stirrups and shoot their enemy with their bows without dismounting from their horses. Over time, when wars depended less on archers on horseback, heels were still reserved for the nobility as a sign of their past warrior history.
Wigs are something that has always been worn by both genders since time immemorial. Why would I say that? Well, humans have been plagued by many parasites that tend to live in our hair. Lice were the major ones. Body lice, hair lice, and pubic lice have been a source of annoyance for as long as man has existed. One of the ways humans have combated this foe has been through the shaving of hair on the head and body. However, humans still use hair as a social tool, for both men and women. Humanity created wigs to cover the removal of their hair. However, wigs tended to be very expensive, and most cost an average person a couple of year's wages to purchase. Those who could afford good wigs were usually wealthy.
Let's go back to the Renaissance. This was the time when the middle class was starting to grow in a lot of countries. They were merchants, adventurers, mercenaries, or craftsmen that were able to take advantage of the new economy. To show their wealth, they began to emulate the nobility. The middle class began to wear heels, wigs, and hose as they gained the wealth to afford them.
After the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution began. The poor couldn't emulate the rich and mighty, as they were just trying to survive. The middle class found that supervising their workers in wigs and heels could lead to death or injury if said garments were caught in the machinery. But, even during the Industrial Revolution, men were still portrayed wearing clothing that we now consider reserved for women, usually at social functions. And, women continued to adapt clothing from men so much that items men used to wear (and weren't for safety reasons usually) were beginning to be associated more with women.
But, what was the event that defined what was masculine and what was feminine? It was the Victorian Age and the reach of the British Empire at the time. This one era defined what respectable men and women could wear. The "Sense and Sensibility" of propriety came to the forefront. Men could not wear what women wore, and women couldn't wear what men wore. It was the "idea" of crossdressing that became an issue, along with other LGBTQ+ hate crimes. This was the death and the knell of men wearing "fashionable" clothes for over a century.
I hope you enjoyed this brief, rambly history lesson.
Hi Kyrstin – I’m going to get my nails done today for the first time in months. I’m so excited! I’ve managed to keep them in quite good shape but they could do with some more expert shaping. I’ll probably go for a subtle nude colour although a celebratory red is very tempting. How did you get on with the leather shorts? I love wearing mine!
Great overview of men’s attire over the centuries, Histrionics. Totally enjoyed it! You have inspired me to go out a follow the example featured in the beginning of your article. Thank you!
I agree with Stevie and Ally, we need to steal back the clothes the ladies swiped from us. At the very least we can share our fashion. My girlfriend and I got pedicures today and then went shopping. I got some tights and jeans along with a pair of ankle strap sandals with block heels. Ally, I might have to try the leather shorts on my next shopping trip! #stealitback XXOO Kyrstin
You’re right Stevie. We need to steal something back. In my own efforts I’ve been experimenting with ladies leather shorts – cut in some very comfortable shapes right now – opaque tights in jade, green, orange and dark tan, all finished off with two inch heel ankle boots, a puff sleeved blouse and a little make up. All I need now is the fur-lined cloak, a horse and half of central England.
Love to you all
Hi everyone Great post I love that we re in a era where men are pushing the envelope. I love my lingerie. It makes me feel good. I also love my girlie jeans the flared ones and the ankle length with stilettos My bootcuts with wedges and pretty toe nail polish. I love enhancing make up not to look like a woman ( ok if you do) but to look better Our fashion was stolen we need to steal it back Stevie
Thanks for the history lesson, Histrionics. I find the trend of men’s fashion a fascinating topic. Don’t forget the swing in fashion during and after WWII. We are still dealing with that one. Fond regards, Angie
“By Saint Jude, I cannot wait to see him in his hose and codpiece! I’ll wager he has a fine leg, and a fine foot too.”
This kind of compliment towards a man was not uncommon in Renaissance and Elizabethen (the first one) times – apparently. Notice how the two gentlemen in the portraits are offering their leg for admiration, much as a modern super-model in a fashion shoot might do.
Perhaps there is an issue of relative aesthetic too. While men were dressing this way, their ladies were squeezing their waists into impossibly narrow forms and flaring their hip shapes with structured skirts.
The men in the portraits are still recognisably men. I think there is a difference between what is ‘fashion’ and what is ‘gender fluidity’. I think what we need is a license for and a tolerance of gender fluidity rather than a license of fashion. Fashion is a norm, gender fluidity may be an exception, but should be an allowable and safe one.
Must get a mask like the model’s. I’m not sure if it is WHO recommended but it looks nice.