They say age ain't nothing but a number. But it's more than that.
It's how you relate to pantyhose.
If you think of pantyhose as a normal part of life for women, you are middle-aged. If you think of them as ancient togs with all the sex appeal of bunion cushions, you are Gen X. But if you think of them as something to wear with defiant pride, you are truly something else. A brave new breed. A customer on the cusp.
You are, in short, a man.
Yes, while women's pantyhose sales have been in a freefall for about a decade, pantyhose sales to men are heading sky-high. Or thigh-high, anyway. And on a guy, that's pretty high.
"Our customers are primarily heterosexual, happily married men that you would never suspect of wearing anything unusual under their trousers," says Steven Katz, managing partner of Ohio-based Comfilon (as in comfort + nylon), the nation's largest purveyor of male pantyhose.
Katz comes from a long line of leg men his great-grandfather started a stocking company in the 1920s. But Katz himself only dreamed up his male hose (that doesn't sound right) eight years ago, after perusing rival hosiery companies' Web sites and seeing the same reader comments over and over: "Why are there no pantyhose for men?"
Ah, where would we be without the insights of the Web?
Men were longing for the comfort and coziness of pantyhose attributes I'll admit I missed back in my own more pantyhose-intensive days. (If men said they longed to see their money disappear down the drain with a single snag, or enjoyed the challenge of trying to walk around in an undergarment that was, upon mid-day reflection, made for someone much, much shorter, that I'd understand.
Maybe. But they really thought of pantyhose as the perfect garment: warmer than socks, less bulky than long-underwear. And so, they longed same as women do for equal pay.)
Anyway, now that men can buy pantyhose, and do, it is fair to ask why younger women are shunning them.
The pantyhose, that is. What it is about this item that makes it such a cultural flash point?
When panties and hosiery first crossbred in 1959, they were more than an instant hit. They were an instant demarcation line. Before that, women had to wear all sorts of hardware to hold up their stockings. Pantyhose were not only easier get on (and off!), they also went so high up the thigh that they made the miniskirt possible. Hello, youth culture, sexual revolution and Twiggy! Goodbye, rubber girdles the very undergarment that had seemed so liberating to earlier women, when they bid goodbye to the even more-constricting corset.
What's appalling to me, a pantyhose baby, is that today's young women feel the same way about pantyhose that I feel about girdles: Eww. "Sex and the City" made bare legs the billboard for a liberated libido. Anything else looked pathologically prim. But just as women my mother's age tsk-tsked the no-girdle look, bare legs in winter look utterly ridiculous to friends MY age. So now WE sound like old ladies.
"Look at those winter white legs," snipped my friend Nancy at Dunkin' Donuts the other morning. "Tell me that is attractive. She'd look so much better in a pair of nice black nylons."
That's why I'm hoping that the pantyhose-for-men movement takes off. If men can make pantyhose sexy, then maybe women can wear them again, too, without feeling as old as Betty Grable.
Or, come to think of it, Twiggy.