Berghain in Berlin is the most aesthetically judgmental nightclub in the world, famous for the quality of its techno, the debauchery of its clientele and the fierceness of its door policy. So I was ready to be surprised when a well-connected friend managed to edge me past the bouncers on a recent visit. Instead, I was shocked. Not by the mind-melting music or the moral dissipation, but by the fact that men of all ages and all body types were wearing nothing more than a pair of leggings.
Some moved with the grace of ballet dancers. Others, less sinewy but equally enthusiastic, were more akin to wrestlers. I reassured myself that surely this display of “meggings”, or male leggings, was just a behind-closed-doors dance-floor affectation. But no. It became increasingly evident during this summer’s menswear shows that the men of Berghain are early adopters of a trend that has legs.
At the Tom Ford show in Milan models wore sleek and conventional casual jackets on top of marble-patterned skin-tight yoga pants. “Long underwear in abstract camouflage prints is worn as casualwear and replaces the training pant this season,” said Ford. I was suspicious about his airy confidence. But in Paris I saw four more leggings-heavy collections.
Kapow Meggings was set up in 2016 and, as its name suggests, makes just one product. Sales have doubled each year since it launched, according to its co-founder Ben Barnett. Traditionally, as far as they can ever be traditional, meggings have come in subdued hues and for modesty’s sake are often worn with shorts on top. Kapow’s offerings, by contrast, are embellished with attention-grabbing patterns. Covering them up would miss the point.
There’s nothing new about leggings, of course. For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, men in Europe happily wore tights, and close-fitting jeans have gone in and out of fashion. The latest incarnation of tight legwear as a piece of expressive masculine outerwear takes its inspiration from yoga bunnies and cyclists. With the rise of “athleisure” – sports clothes worn as casualwear – yoga pants have become a staple garment for women, just as the cycling short has for middle-aged men in lycra (“MAMILS”). The growth of gender-fluid dressing, a movement that presents one sex wearing clothes conventionally worn by the other as a progressive statement, has also played its part.
Wearing a skintight garment below the belt is an exposing experience. Perhaps that’s a good thing, if you’re brave enough: ballet dancers have long been valorised for the shapeliness of their calves, the heft of their quads and the topography of their parts.
Does all this mean that meggings are poised to go mainstream, subjecting us to the curvature of men’s nether regions? Perhaps not. This is an area where the fashionistas have failed before. In 2012 celebrities such as Justin Bieber donned them and retailers like Uniqlo prepared for a Christmas surge that never materialised. Beyond Berghain and the catwalk, most men still prefer to wear the trousers.•