Masculinity is evolving, and our clothes are changing along with us. Take your go-to exercise gear. Once, you suited up for the gym (or more recently, your home workout space or outdoor socially-distanced training spot).
By slipping on a pair of nondescript mesh shorts or cotton sweatpants. Now, after much encouragement and some taboo busting, sleek, tight-fitting leggings have been embraced by more men than ever.
That’s not to say the widespread adoption of men’s tights has come without resistance. Even from guys willing to take the Lycra leap. Along the way, the curve-exposing nature of the garment has caused some guys to ease into totally unimpeded wear. Shorts over leggings are common. Even as they play the role of the training wheels of men’s fitness fashion. And no one should ever forget the Dick Towel discourse of 2019. When Jezebel‘s Tracy Clark-Flory investigated Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s use of a tucked-in strip of material to cover his own Johnson. The Rock, ever nimble on social media, denied that the towel was for modesty’s sake in a good-natured tweet. But the proof that others were covering up the goods with hand towels was too clear to deny the practice is a thing.
Shorts, dick towel, or overlong t-shirt—all of this extra material serves the same purpose: covering up the bulge.
Many men aren’t ready to expose their crotches to the public, crying modesty. At its worst, pushback against men wearing revealing clothing in public is virulently homophobic. As social media comments on my articles on the subject and video appearances wearing leggings can attest. Even as athletes, dancers, and movie superheroes are commonly seen rocking skin-tight duds.
But more men than ever are prepared to wear the tight clothes. And they’re finding new clothing options that are increasingly geared to solving the problem of overexposure. I have the opportunity to test a ton of workout apparel as a fitness editor. And I’ve been surprised recently in some changes to the crotchal region of compression pants from a pair of brands.
Innovations in Crotch Covering
The first, Lululemon, is arguably the biggest name in the stretchy pant space after helping to bring about the rise of athleisure with its yoga pants for women. The brand’s menswear line is widely considered top-notch, too. And when I slid on a pair of its Surge tights on for the first time, I noticed that there was more support than usual. This came in the form of a built-in jockstrap. Minus the awkward rear straps that usually provide support for the goods upfront. The jock fits seamlessly into the garment’s design. And does a commendable job of downplaying the exact shape of the wearer’s junk while keeping everything in place.
The biggest surprise to me was that this desirable feature isn’t even mentioned in Lululemon’s marketing materials. When asked about the jock, Lululemon’s design team emphasized that its focus was more on fit and comfort than aesthetics. “We designed this style to address the most common piece of feedback we heard from our guests [customers]. Wanting a waistband that would firmly stay put,” a rep for the team shared via email. “We also designed this tight for running. Guests want the option to be able to wear the tight on its own. Or to layer it with shorts. We provided more coverage and support to create a tight that could be comfortably worn alone during cooler weather runs.”
“I don’t think those women were ready to see my balls on display, it would be pretty pornographic.”
While the Lululemon design is more demure in its origin, another menswear brand is explicitly all about the crotch. Matador Meggings (yes, that is a portmanteau of “men’s leggings”) features more than just a jockstrap for comfort.
When I tried on a sample pair for the first time, I immediately noticed the groin is reinforced by a soft. Teardrop-shaped pad, which can be removed from an internal pouch. I felt like I was wearing a codpiece. As the pad’s material gave the groin area both shape and size. The company’s marketing materials refer to this as “anti-VPL (Visible Penis Line) technology,”. Which started as a means for modesty—but morphed into a larger brand statement on how men present themselves in public.
Matador founder Valentine Aseyo started the company after he felt uncomfortable wearing leggings in a yoga instructor class full of women. “I don’t think those women were ready to see my balls on display. It would be pretty pornographic,” he recounted his eureka moment on a phone call. “I said, surely someone like Nike or other big brands like Under Armour should be making leggings for men. I looked around I research I could not find any. And I said, You know what, I will do it.”
Nike and Under Armour do in fact make leggings for men. And have for years (Nike also launched its first yoga-specific line last year) but in my experience. Products from other athleticwear companies don’t put the level of focus into the crotch design that Aseyo wanted. So when he left his job as a tech exec, he put his attention into creating his dream “meggings”. The soft cup for the crotch came first. After he stole his mom’s and sister’s bras and cut out a prototype. Then, after some rigorous in-person market research in gyms and festivals. Aseyo is an unabashed Burning Man fan—he added pockets, a drawstring, and, in a move directly counter to the concept of a dick towel. A belt loop in the back for discarded shirts or towels.
Next-Level Leggings for Men
Lululemon Surge Tight
Nike Infinalon Dri-FIT Yoga Tights
Strider Compression Tight
Ten Thousand 3/4 Tight
Under Armour Qualifier Speedpocket HeatGear Tight
2XU Accelerate Print Compression Tights
Break Out of the Gym
None of these features (save the crotch cup) make Matador’s leggings particularly flashy. The brand’s many colorful styles, however, make them impossible to ignore in a crowd. That’s by design, to make the brand as much a fashion staple as a functional garment.
When we spoke, Aseyo admonished me for choosing a nondescript black and grey pair to test. “I want men to embrace fun colors,” he says. He’s providing more options for consumers. Sure—Matador’s marketing materials are clear in the brand’s aim to make fun. High-quality gear for fitness fanatics and festival goers—but there’s more to that mission.
He specifically hopes the LQBTQ community will embrace the leggings in order to help normalize the sleek look outside the gym. “LGBTQ men have been trendsetters in men’s fashion,” he says. “There’s a saying, all truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridiculed. Second, it’s violently opposed. And third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.”
While men wearing leggings isn’t exactly on the same level of truth as universal civil rights. The larger concept of this type of self-expression is important. We live in a society that represses male exhibitionism and enforces narrow guidelines for what is and isn’t an acceptable representation of masculinity. If Matador’s target consumer can help to normalize men wearing bright, tight-fitting leggings to Sunday brunch. Other men everywhere can be freer to wear whatever they want, however they want, wherever they want.
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