For more than a decade, Mack wore women's pantyhose under his clothes to keep him warm while he worked as a landscaper. But four years ago, Mack, 35, discovered "mantyhose" —pantyhose for men.
"It's nice because they are specifically made for men, so I felt less weird about it," said Mack, who declined to give his last name (because his wife does still feel weird about it). "They are tougher, less delicate than women's pantyhose, but not as bulky as long underwear."
He says that he enjoys the fit and feel of the "mantyhose" so much that he wears them year-round, even though he now holds an office job.
Mack is one of a growing number of men — from construction workers to athletes and businessmen — who've found a passion for pantyhose, claiming they wear the hosiery for support, comfort and aesthetic purposes. Luckily, there are now pairs made specifically for men so that they don't have to ravage their wives’ or girlfriends’ dressers to nestle into a pair of nylons.
Coming to America
European men have been sporting hose for several years, but the trend has been slow to catch on in the U.S. (It is important to note that the trend has no connection to men who wear hose to cross-dress, since they prefer to wear pairs that are more feminine.) The "mantyhose" is also part of a larger trend of untraditional men's underwear designed to lift, sculpt and suck in that beer belly — from the "mirdle" (man-girdle) to Australian designer Equmen's Core Precision Undershirt, touted as the "Spanx for men." A small group of male pantyhose enthusiasts from America, Canada and Europe even set up a Web site, the U.K.-based e-mancipate.net, "to speed up the mainstreaming process of male pantyhose" for men all over the world.
Atlanta-based Luxelegwear.com, which makes European hosiery brands available around the world, has sold 75 to 80 percent of its products to men since it started in 2005, according to managing director Deborrah Ashley.
Steven Katz, co-owner of Ohio-based Comfilon, which creates and distributes men's pantyhose, says that while the market for men's pantyhose in the U.S. is "tiny," 2008 has been "our best year ever."
The "mantyhose" comes in a variety of colors and designs, but, Katz says, basic black holds the title as most popular.
Katz came up with the idea for creating men's pantyhose after surfing the Internet and finding complaints from men who were frustrated about their lack of options.
"Men were being told by their doctors that they needed compression legwear for knee problems," Katz said. "So they were sent to buy women's hosiery, and that was embarrassing for them."
One such man was 55-year-old Steve, who suffers from restless leg syndrome; he declined to give his last name for publication. "My legs would ache at night and I wouldn't be able to sleep," he said. "I thought they would help with my circulation, so I ordered a couple pairs, and my legs haven't bothered me since."
Four years later, Steve, a coffee shop manager from Greenville, S.C., can't imagine life without wearing men's pantyhose.
Not your mother’s pantyhose
Katz, who was looking for a way to boost his company's sales, said he wanted to fill a void in the market and cater to men like Steve. He began designing pantyhose styles that had masculine proportions and fly openings, and in 1998, Comfilon's Activeskin Legwear for Men was born. The company now sells hosiery and intimate apparel for men only through the Internet, and also distributes a men's pantyhose line from the mainstream French hosiery company Gerbe.
Comfilon's sales tagline? "This is NOT your mother's pantyhose."
That's what Dave Andrews, 40, found when he first tried a pair of "mantyhose" in 2006, after he had worn women's pantyhose for six months.
"The benefits were there — you can't argue with the muscle support when you're on your feet all day," said Andrews, a sales representative from Indianapolis, Ind. "Plus, it's made for the male anatomy, so there's added comfort, and the control top makes you look better."
Katz says his Activeskin line isn't sold in stores because there is continued stigma about men wearing pantyhose.
"There are a lot of guys who like wearing the product because of the benefits — the support, the warmth — but the gender hang-ups about pantyhose are still so pervasive," he said. Video: Pantyhose for men?
Many men who wear "mantyhose" say it isn't them or even other guys who are embarrassed —it's mostly their wives and girlfriends.
"My wife was really uncomfortable at first — she was nervous about going out with me in public when I had them on," said Andrews. "But then we went out and she saw that no one noticed or had any adverse reaction."
Mack says his wife still isn't keen on the world knowing about his hosiery.
"I understand how people can be taken aback by it, but men used to wear this legwear before women ever did," he said. "No one's gonna stop me from wearing what I need to wear."
Andrews often gets positive reactions from people when they see that he's wearing "mantyhose." And for those who are still turned off by men wearing hosiery, Andrews responds with a couple of clichés.
"Don't knock it till you've tried it, and don't be afraid to take the leap," he said.
© 2011 MSNBC Interactive.
© 2011 MSNBC Interactive.