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Fashionable Men in Skin-Tight Pants: Shifts in Body Images and Concepts of Masculinity in the History of Men’s Legwear

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in (Re)Presenting Gender book series (PSRG)

Abstract

Melanie Haller’s topical inquiry into the phenomenon of the ‘meggings’ traces its emergence within the history of men’s fashion and relates it to shifting notions of masculinity at different historical and cultural moments—thus emphasizing its performative quality. While skin-tight pants and the emphasis on men’s legs constituted a symbol of hegemonic masculinity up until 1850, the visibility of men’s legs has then undergone shifts that signal the proliferation of ‘new’ body images and concepts of masculinity, such as counter-cultural masculinities of the 1960s and the rise of African-American style cultures during the 1970s and 1980s, which Haller reads within the context of so-called ‘anti-fashion’ discourses. Her contribution also offers a look at the meggings in contemporary fashion culture, thereby outlining its transnational history and formations.

Keywords

  • Meggings
  • Gender performativity
  • Men’s fashion
  • Skin-tight pants
  • Legwear
  • Gendered fashion

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Fig. 12.1

© Kapow Meggings

Fig. 12.2
Fig. 12.3

Notes

  1. 1.

    The website of the US-based fashion company “Kapow” is a case in point as regards advertising the male leggings.

  2. 2.

    I have published extensively on the topic of design decisions and fashion systems in a number of articles in the past few years, see Haller (2015, 2018, 2019, 2020).

  3. 3.

    For scholars of Fashion Studies and to a large part also for dress historians, the differentiation between dress and fashion is not a trivial endeavor: Dress is often seen as standing in contrast to fashion, with fashion being an evaluative modern system and a symbolic process that generates socio-cultural meaning.

  4. 4.

    This includes, for example, Laver (1995), Vincent (2009), and Welters and Lillethun (2018).

  5. 5.

    Due to the fact that the majority of canonized fashion theoreticians are men, including most prominently Thorstein Veblen, Georg Simmel, John C. Flügel, and Friedrich Theodor Vischer, who all stress that in modern times, fashion was associated with notions of female frivolity, it is important to consider that their position is informed by their bourgeois habitus. That is, their work reflects their own position towards the renunciation of fashion for men, which has been shaped by the bourgeois society they represent.

  6. 6.

    See König (1973), Steele (1997), Davis (2007), Wilson (2007), Hebdige (2008), Polhemus (2011).

  7. 7.

    See Auslander (2006), Kurennaya (2012), Turner (2013), Krämer (2014), Chapman and Johnson (2016), Reynolds (2016), Buckingham (2019)

  8. 8.

    Often quoted is the Beat Generation, its members later caricatured as Beatniks. They were identified with “the notion ofSeeAlsoSeeAlsoBeat Generation a rebellious youth counterculture” (Hill 2018, 35) and expressed their criticism of “a conformist society, oppressive politics, the police, and […] life itself” (31) in an explicit rejection of everything that was associated with fashion and in a different counter-fashionable style (Welters 2005).

  9. 9.

    Matthew Bannister (2006) provides interesting research on the relationship between whiteness and the pop culture of the indie rock scene.

  10. 10.

    For their generous provision of this image, I would like to thank Ulrich Duve and the Klaus-Kuhnke-Archiv in Bremen.

  11. 11.

    In the Renaissance, the codpiece was a padded and particularly emphasized part in male trousers that accentuated the crotch.

  12. 12.

    In Subculture: The Meaning of Style (2008), Dick Hebdige, for example, never questioned gender concepts in Punk culture.

  13. 13.

    In Fashion Theory, there is a seemingly self-evident distinction between functionality and aesthetics that is unquestioned. This opposes theories of architecture, where the distinction of functionality and aesthetics is revealed as a modern myth.

  14. 14.

    See, for instance, “Meggings” on Lookbook or an article on how a jacket could be combined with a meggings on the German lifestyle blog Kaisers neue Kleider.

  15. 15.

    See, for instance, Leisa Barnett’s article on the Givenchy Spring/Summer 2009 menswear collection in Vogue.

  16. 16.

    The icons for this style are unsurprisingly David Beckham or the fashion blogger Brian Boy, two men who have been labelled ‘metrosexuals’.

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Haller, M. (2022). Fashionable Men in Skin-Tight Pants: Shifts in Body Images and Concepts of Masculinity in the History of Men’s Legwear. In: Dexl, C., Gerlsbeck, S. (eds) The Male Body in Representation. Palgrave Studies in (Re)Presenting Gender. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88604-2_12

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