Art, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Manuscripts and Books

Tights, A Medieval Fashion Faux Pas, Return!

For over a year now, a fashion trend from medieval Europe—once reserved for men of elite social standing—has been resurrected and adopted by women, causing some fashionistas to cringe.

Tights are back.

The Competition in Sittacene and the Placating of Sisigambis / Attributed to the Master of the Jardin de vertueuse consolation

The Competition in Sittacene and the Placating of Sisigambis (detail) in Book of the Deeds of Alexander the Great, illuminations attributed to the Master of the Jardin de vertueuse consolation, about 1470–75

In mid-15th-century England, a law restricted the wearing of short tunics that revealed the male buttocks to members of the upper class. In works of art, men of this, um, standing are often depicted wearing what we would call tights or leggings (hose) beneath their skimpy tunics. In today’s world, such tight-fitting leg garments were, until recently, reserved for ballet, the theater, Halloween, certain sporting events, and historical reenactment festivals.

According to the “Tights Are Not Pants” manifesto, these aforementioned situations represent “historically acceptable acts of pantlessness.” The manifesto was written in response to the recent surge in women choosing tights as an alternative to pants, even if barely covered by a flimsy top. The “gratuitous divulgence of assets” amounts to the fashion equivalent of TMI.

Just as some today are alarmed at these acts of pantlessness, so too were some living in the Middle Ages. One author from the 14th century considered thinly disguised buttocks to be a deformation for otherwise honest men, and a Parisian bishop from the same time period preached that this type of dress was utterly shameful. Historical examples of tights-as-pants are on view in Fashion in the Middle Ages, our exhibition of medieval manuscripts that closes this Sunday.

In fact, two manuscripts in the gallery show men garbed in short tunics with their round backsides in plain sight. The image shown here comes from a book recounting the intrepid adventures of Alexander the Great, but the artist has clothed the figures in courtly dress of the late 1400s. We’ve explored the other image here.

Did you spot the tights being worn by the brilliantly clad noblemen, who are actually supposed to be Alexander’s soldiers? They look far too fancy to do any real fighting.

Detail from the Competition in Sittacene and the Placating of Sisigambis / Attributed to the Master of the Jardin de vertueuse consolation
Where do you stand on this heated debate? At least, as Roger Wieck points out, we have been spared one other fashion oddity of medieval times: miniskirts for men. Will they be next?

Tagged , , , , Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. steve
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I dont see why men are not wearing tights anymore. Because of my job, sitting all day, and the fact I have mild water in one leg, I am now wearing tight footless leggings. They are so comfortable! The other day I ventured out in them without covering trousers and nobody seemed to notice. But then running tights are quite common now on men and women. One day male fashion will return tights to men, women having stolen then, but sadly probably not in my lifetime. I am almost 57 now. Cant wait to go out in my footless tights again!!!!

  2. Kim Sherman
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I predict men and boys will be wearing tunics and tights within 20 years.

    • Michael
      Posted March 24, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Hi Kim, I LOVE Renaissance clothing and wear tights to practice ballet in. What are your thoughts about men wearing tights?

One Trackback

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Tumblr

    • photo from Tumblr

      Olympian Census #3: Poseidon

      Get the stats on your favorite (and not-so-favorite) gods and goddesses on view at the Getty Center.

      Roman name: Neptune

      Employment: God of the Sea

      Place of residence: A fancy palace somewhere in the Aegean Sea

      Parents: Cronus and Rhea

      Marital status: Married to Amphitrite, a sea goddess, but had many affairs just like his brother Zeus

      Offspring: Had many children including Triton, Theseus, Orion, Polyphemos and Arion

      Symbol: Trident, horse, and dolphin

      Special talent: Starting earthquakes & Shapeshifting into a horse to pursue women

      Highlights reel:

      • When Goddess Demeter turned into a mare to escape Poseidon’s pursuit, Poseidon also turned into a horse and mated with her, creating a talking horse baby, Arion.
      • Athena became the patron goddess of Athens over Poseidon by giving the city an olive tree, which produced wood, oil, and food. Poseidon had given them a salt-water spring. Nice going, Poseidon.
      • Poseidon cursed Olysseus to wander the seas for 10 years after the Trojan War in revenge for Olysseus blinding his son, the cyclops Poplyphemos.

      Olympian Census is a 12-part series profiling gods in art at the Getty Center.


  • Flickr