A Brief History of Leg Warmers

by Tori Telfer

The coolest thing I own just might be a pair of leg warmers. Wait, before you judge, let me clarify: The coolest thing I own is a pair of hand-knitted rainbow leg warmers that were stitched together by my cheerleading aunt in the 1980s. Do you realize what a pair of leg warmers made in the 1980s is like? It's like someone giving you a piece of lava rock from the beginning of the world. That's like someone giving you two buns of hair that were shorn from Princess Leia's head during the filming of Star Wars. My point, crazed as it may seem, is that leg warmers from the 1980s are mad authentic.

Like stirrup pants, another questionable '80s trend we've discussed, leg warmers originated as athletic wear. In the 1980s, they grew in popularity as a way to keep the muscles of dancers' lower legs warm; dancers wore them during warm-ups, scrunched around their ankles or pulled up all the way to their thighs, and took them off once performances began. But dancer's outfits looked unquestionably cool to the ladies of the '80s, just as aerobic wear did, and soon enough, the leg warmer did a massive fouetté jeté into mainstream fashion's consciousness.

The popularity of the leg warmer was helped, in large part, by a certain movie:

What a feeling, am I right? Are you digging those aerobic-inspired dance moves? Flashdance came out in 1983, and though its leg warmer-wearing protagonist was, in fact, a dancer, seeing leg warmers on the big screen was enough to send normal people scrambling for the nearest dance wear outlet.

Now that leg warmers were something normal people could wear without judgment, the ladies went crazy. They were worn with mini-skirts, over leggings, and sometimes even over jeans. It was hip to match your scrunchie or sweater to your leg warmers, and whoa — is that an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a matching sweatband? Get out of here.

Though leg warmers haven't re-emerged as a full-fledged trend since the '80s, dancers still wear them without batting an eyelash, and designers aren't averse to sending weird, futuristic interpretations of the leg warmer down the runway every now and then.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Modern leg warmers, out of control.

Today, you're also likely to find leg warmers on babies, because, um, apparently it's a good way to keep your child warm while changing his or her diaper. And I'd also like to point out that US Patent D516256 S1 is for something called "Animal Leg Warmer," in which, well, you can guess. The leg warmer may no longer be wildly popular, but once it's made it onto dogs and cats and other crawling things (BABIES), you know it's here to stay.

As for my rainbow leg warmers? It's hard to style them in a serious fashion, but it's nice to know they're mine. Everybody needs something tacky but mad authentic in the back of their closet.

Images: KendallsCrochet via Etsy