03/12/2012 05:25 pm ET Updated May 12, 2012

Mantyhose: Is Brosiery The Final Step Toward 'The End Of Men'?

Robin Hood wore them. Prince Charming probably had a pair or two. But what would you do if you saw a man walking down the street in tights today? In her New York Times op-ed column on Sunday, Maureen Dowd mused on an email from a male friend calling into question the manliness of "mantyhose": "Crying Putin, manscara and now mantyhose. We are over."

At first, I was unsure about lumping together a teary-eyed world leader, male makeup and the manufacture of "mantyhose" (also known as "brosiery" or "guylons," according to Dowd) -- I certainly don't think this triad symbolizes "the end of men." But upon further consideration, I did begin to see a pattern (and no, I'm not just talking about this star-spangled bit of brosiery). The public display of emotion from a politician, the manscara and the mantyhose each mark another step toward a more mainstream acceptance of men adopting products and attitudes that were once seen as the sole purview of women -- a shift that's been happening quietly for years.

Celebrities and politicians have been sporting makeup for decades. For the first televised presidential debate in 1960, John F. Kennedy famously wore makeup -- while Richard Nixon refused -- and was far more telegenic as a result. In the 2010 New York gubernatorial race, Andrew Cuomo spent $1,383.86 on a stylist, and the June 2011 New Yorker profile of Silvio Berlusconi revealed that then-prime minister of Italy, in addition to being an admirer of female beauty, spends quite a bit of time beautifying his own appearance by wearing orange foundation and white eyeliner.

It seems like tights are a natural progression in the move toward a more gender-neutral ideal of beauty. Male celebrities are increasingly subjected to body-image scrutiny -- just look at Jeffrey Wells's remarks on Jonah Hill's weight. But while female actors are tweeting and talking about using Spanx on the red carpet, aside from Jimmy Kimmel's Spanx antics in "The Handsome Men's Club," we've yet to hear a Hollywood "hunk" dish about his shapewear. But that day may not be far off: For her op-ed, Dowd interviewed Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who said she's considering making a version of her product for men:

We've been getting calls from stylists who tell us that A-list actors and top musicians are squeezing into our Spanx bodysuits for women for movies and music videos. And women are telling us to please do something for their husbands and boyfriends, who are squeezing into large and extra-large women's sizes.

Meanwhile, legwear companies in Europe seem to be taking the lead in the mantyhose market. Dowd noted that Franceso Cavallini, vice president of Emilio Cavallini of Florence, Italy, told Women's Wear Daily there's "a cult following for mantyhose" and that men are now wearing them for warmth under clothing and for added comfort at home, though with the release of more patterned items like skulls, he's predicting "men buying these tights want to make a fashion statement."

Though few would argue that men in this day and age can't cry and makeup for men (at least men on TV) is essentially de rigueur, is the world ready for guylons?