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What the . . . Legwarmers?

August 3, 2012

*What the…Friday? is a weekly Friday feature in which I resuscitate a video relic from the swampy pits of Pop Culture Wasteland.*

Today:  What the legwarmers?

“They’re functional, fashionable and just plain fun!”

That’s what I learned about legwarmers today — from watching a commercial about legwarmers.

1982-Angie and 1982-Skate Island could attest to the “fashionable” part.  And  scientific evidence would surely prove they are “just plain fun.”

But “functional”?  What would make them functional?  This was not explained to me in the commercial, amid the flying hypnotic color wheel of legs.

Oh, I suppose you’re going to say that legwarmers keep your legs warm?  Yeah, I thought you’d say that.  That’s so obvious, right.

Then tell me why Jane Fonda is not wearing earmuffs.  Huh?  Tell me.  Then tell me why this thing was never all the rage:

And then when you’re done telling me that, tell me what the deal is with cable knit legwarmers.

Yes, cable knit legwarmers.

I’m not really getting the cable knit part in the commercial.  Apparently the type of knit weave is important?  Any other weave would not be as fashionable?  Functional, yes.  No matter the weave, they’d function the same — which is to hang on your calves while looking irrelevant.

I owned three pairs of legwarmers.

I had a stripey pair (royal blue/magenta/emerald green), I had a purple pair (naturally) and I had a mauve pair (from what I call “my mauve period”).  The elastic shot out of at least one pair, and then they drooped down around my ankles and sunk down into my shoes until they became socks.  Which were functional.

Legwarmers were such a Big Deal to me.  Such a Big Deal to the ’80s.  And yet I’ve never before written a single post about legwarmers.  It’s a crying shame.

Until now.  It seems it took this WTF? video to bring me back to what really matters.  (And if you can figure out why it matters, please tell me.)

[Bonus flashback!  Look for Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter, two of the original MTV VJs, in the first second of the clip.]

87 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2012 6:08 am

    Oh, more reasons that i am warped: I went to a tiny Baptist school (for not so tiny baptists) and we wore below the knee skirts- for 20 months every year they let us wear legwarmers- oh, how stylish we felt, how like shetlands with fetlock injuries we looked…….

    • August 3, 2012 8:26 pm

      Tiny Baptist school? I’m envisioning a bold fashionista who must’ve been screaming to be let out. You wrote “20 months” but I bet money you meant “20 days”. Or did you mean “20 minutes”? Wearing legwarmers for no more than 20 minutes a year sounds completely reasonable to me.

  2. August 3, 2012 6:19 am

    I don’t know if I’d ever consider ‘rust’ color ‘luscious’.

    Isn’t it crazy what we considered fashion back then? Why do I get the feeling Lenore is hiding a pair of those in her Dynomite photo?

    Interesting factoid: under my About page, you can read about my first almost-published fiction story called, The Case of the Missing Legwarmer, starring me and my best friend as hard-boiled detectives solving crimes. Unfortunately, the missing legwarmer stayed missing. Or maybe that’s a good thing.

    • August 3, 2012 8:30 pm

      Lenore is definitely hiding a pair of rust legwarmers in that photo. And maybe a pair of LA Gear hightops. And possibly a GoJulesGo slap bracelet. Okay, all of those are from completely different slots on the 80s spectrum. But I’m sure they could all be friends.

      The Case of the Missing Legwarmer! I feel like I read this before. Yes, on your About page. Is the almost-published work actually on there or just the mention of its existence? Someday I’m going to post one of my stooopid “In Search of the Missing Link” editor’s columns from my old high school newspaper.

  3. August 3, 2012 6:21 am

    I can’t begin to recount how many times I was unpleasantly surprised after wining and dining some pretty young thing only to have her take off her legwarmers and find out she had CANKLES!

    Never got the fashion trend, but that’s your point, right?

    Not like today’s fashions where GoGuiltyPleasures snap bracelets and rubber WW1PPD bracelets dominate (What Would 1 Point Perspective Do?).

    • August 3, 2012 6:37 am

      Great way to hide cankles!! I shall tell my friends…

      • August 3, 2012 6:41 am

        …and so the deception continues….

      • August 3, 2012 8:34 pm

        Hooray for legwarmers! They might be the greatest invention since control top pantyhose.

    • August 3, 2012 8:33 pm

      I must know more about these WW1PPD bracelets. Am I the only blogger who doesn’t have signature merchandise?

      Cankles. Now there is something that proves there is a function of legwarmers.

      • August 3, 2012 9:09 pm

        Alas, my comment was filled with inaccuracies. Since I’ve been married since June of 1982, my wining and dining of cuties largely happened before the heyday of legwarmers – though I swear I was surprised by at least one set of Cankles due to them.

        As for the WW1PPD rubber band bracelets, that was an idea of one of my earliest followers who didn’t think it would smack of being a sad imitation of Jules, so those things were never even considered, but it was kind of fun to talk about.

        I promise not to type with my fingers crossed next time.

      • August 3, 2012 9:31 pm

        Hey, no need to explain yourself. We bloggers follow a truthiness pact around these parts.

        That’s not to say I’m not 100% honest 100% of the time.

      • August 4, 2012 6:48 am

        I promise my upcoming dog excrement blog is based on actual events…how’s that for truthiness?

        Besides, I was actually lusting after the cuties in the leg warmers a la Jimmy Carter and my lust was extinguished by the cankles – so that was true in a round-about sort of way. More importantly, I got to use the word “cankles” one more time.

      • August 5, 2012 8:55 pm

        I’m at long last heading over to check out the fecal damage you’ve inflicted on the blogosphere.

        I didn’t know Jimmy Carter wore legwarmers, nor did I know he had cankles.

  4. August 3, 2012 6:36 am

    I was a dancer through high school and into my 20’s. One of my favorite ways to “make” leg warmers was repurpose a man’s sweater by robbing the arms (i.e. cut them off), notch a spot at the wristband for the heal to pop through (jazz shoes had heals, ya know), and voila. Leg warmers. For nothin’.

    If that wasn’t the craziest, I would also take tights that developed great big holes in the heals (common), cut the crotch out of them, and us THOSE as an undershirt for my leotard, so that my head stuck out of the crotch, and the legs warmed the arms. We were so backward, it’s no wonder people thought dancers were kooky.

    • August 3, 2012 8:37 pm

      I’m not kidding but I was actually thinking when I wrote this post about how legwarmers might’ve started out as a sweater that someone knitted without finishing. “What can we do with the arms? There are only arms here? What if we put them around our legs?” But you’re telling me this is basically the way it worked?

      Okay so you had me completely in awe of your genius on the first part of your comment. And then I read the part about the tights. And you went from crazy genius to just plain crazy after that.

  5. August 3, 2012 6:37 am

    They were wonderful. I wore them to and from the office, to and from Capitol Hill, under neath my smartly tailored suit and above my sneakers. They kept me warm. And oh-so-fashionable.

    • August 3, 2012 8:38 pm

      You’re turning me around here, Elyse. I think I just flip-flopped. I love legwarmers now.

      • August 3, 2012 8:40 pm

        I think the love is only if you’re in a skirt in a cold climate. Now that we have pants suits (Hilary style), we can now get by without the warmers. RIP leg warmers, RIP!

      • August 3, 2012 8:42 pm

        You don’t have to explain yourself. I do secretly like them. I don’t think that comes through in this post, but I do. And Nicki from The Middlest Sister wears them and she’s the coolest cat in town. That means they must be hip.

      • August 3, 2012 8:45 pm

        I think they are symbols of feminism. We will NOT be cold. We will not look perfect for MEN.

        I can clearly recall Congressman John Dingell seeing me in my leg warmers and sneakers and scoffing at me. But I was warm and comfortable. Take that you old codger.

      • August 3, 2012 8:49 pm

        And then Jennifer Beals starred in the movie Flashdance, and Congressman Dingell was like, “Hell yeah, legwarmers.”

      • August 3, 2012 8:50 pm

        I was much cuter than she. not so much any more, but then I was. And I carried a really cool briefcase …

      • August 3, 2012 8:51 pm

        I’m feeling like you need to submit something to my Dynomite! contest.

      • August 3, 2012 8:55 pm

        Well, maybe. But then I would have to open up that cabinet where the pictures are. I have heard that they attack.

      • August 4, 2012 7:13 am

        I’m feeling like I need to buy a little scanner …

      • August 4, 2012 7:51 am

        On the Jennifer Beals subject, she kept her legs warm, but her one shoulder was always freezing from that top she wore that had the large, off-center neck hole.

      • August 5, 2012 9:16 pm

        Good call. That neck hole was so large you could hula-hoop with it. Which by the way is an excellent ab exercise, I’m told.

  6. August 3, 2012 7:11 am

    Was one of the colors mange? Isn’t that dog scabies? Sounds luscious. I could have misheard because I’m wearing one of those cable knit neck warmers.

    • August 3, 2012 8:40 pm

      I’m thinking one of the colors was definitely “mange” and one was called “tetanus from a rusty lead pipe.” Or it could’ve just been “rust”. Like you, I couldn’t hear much with my head covered up by a sweater sleeve.

  7. August 3, 2012 7:15 am

    Those colors really are lucious. Especially the white and beige.

    • August 3, 2012 8:44 pm

      I can’t think of any color more luscious than beige. Beige is just so passionately androgynous.

  8. August 3, 2012 7:55 am

    Wow, on top of everything else, you seem to have been the inventor of ‘loose socks’ (or ‘ruuzu sokusu’ if you want to nitpick, which are basically leg warmers with no elastics worn bunched around the ankles). They were pretty much mandatory for all teenage girls in Japan about a decade ago. I hope you had the presence of mind to patent the things.

    • August 3, 2012 8:58 pm

      What a great story! I had no idea I had launched this trend, nor did I remember I named them ruuzu sokusu. Thank you for sharing, Jean-Francois. I can add this to the list of things I invented, which also includes: (1) the word “biff” and (2) unicorns with wings. Obviously the last one outshines the other two.

  9. August 3, 2012 7:56 am

    That Jane Fonda picture takes me back. I can remember my mom attempting her videos in our wood-paneled den, panting and clapping and totally off count. But Jane, she rocked those leg warmers and I had to have a pair. My mom? I tried not to look.

    • August 3, 2012 9:02 pm

      Yes! I think you wrote about something like this when I posted about Richard Simmons! I believe you mentioned your mom Sweatin’ to the Oldies. Oh, Karen — now I feel like I was practically there. And I’m embarrassed too.

  10. Emily permalink
    August 3, 2012 8:10 am

    Why was that one woman wearing leg warmers over her pants?

    • August 3, 2012 9:27 pm

      Because they looked cool that way? I used to wear them over my jeans. It didn’t work so well on the wider-legged jeans.

  11. August 3, 2012 8:13 am

    I wore white tights with pink leg warmers for my aerobics class. I wish I could excuse this unfortunate choice by saying that I was 10. I was 30.

    • August 3, 2012 9:29 pm

      White tights and pink legwarmers remind me of something from the TV show Fame. That is hot stuff.

  12. August 3, 2012 8:28 am

    I still wear legwarmers… secretly in winter around the house or under my pants and boots when I go out. I have them leftover from my college ballet class where I made my ballet intructor laugh by being the worse ballerina she had ever seen. I love my legwarmers. I have a pair of thigh-high pink ones, two pairs of black knee-high ones (one cable-knit, which actually is warmer!) and one pair of maroon knit pants that fold over at the waist to warm your hips. They are nice and warm and cozy and if anyone tries to take them away from me, I will bite.

    • notcurrentlyblogging permalink
      August 3, 2012 9:49 am

      I feel I must confess that when my boys were still babies I took a ballet class with a leg warmer aspect to its appeal. I had the baby-elephant-like movements of a woman who had just had twins. (Nancy take note -black leotard, flesh colored tights and brown wool leg warmers, not 10) Sadly this was not the 80’s. The leg warmers were the lone survivors of an earlier obession. The worse part was that I knew how riciculous I looked, yet still couldn’t help myself. They just felt so much funner than my regular burp cloth fashion accessory.

      • August 3, 2012 9:22 pm

        I think that sounds pretty hot myself. I would not be opposed to wearing legwarmers around the block, post 1982. Now I would be opposed to taking any type of organized dance or aerobics class. I have the coordination of a newborn baby hippo.

        And Lori-Ann? Is that you? So nice to see you around these parts! Hope you’re doing well!

      • notcurrentlyblogging permalink
        August 4, 2012 6:25 pm

        Yep, it’s me. I have been reading along, just not blogging myself. Still battling insomia. Last night I happened to realize that I took that ballet class when my boys were three, not newborn. Then I lay awake worrying about the possibility of early senility. After that I figured out the plot line on Coronation Street. Somehow this all tied in with my wool leg warmers, which I think I must have finally let go of afterall.

      • August 5, 2012 9:15 pm

        Poor thing with the insomnia — sounds dreadful. The few times a year that I can’t sleep are torturous nights.

        At any rate, I’m glad to “see you” and hear about your fetching legwarmers.

    • August 3, 2012 9:25 pm

      Don’t keep those things a secret, Nicki! You need to wear them out and about — and hold your head up high! I’ll have you know that I’m buying a pair. You’ve sold me. I’m not kidding. I’ve said it in almost every comment now. I’m buying some. I love them. I’m a changed woman. And it’s all because of you. You’re changing the world, one comment confession at a time.

  13. August 3, 2012 8:51 am

    So my sister is a dancer and when I first started knitting I told her I’d make her a pair of legwarmers for Christmas…that was about 6 years ago now, and she’s still waiting. That damn cable stitch is HARD!

    Angie my friend, there’s a shout out over at WBS with your name on it today: :-)

    • August 3, 2012 9:16 pm

      The fact that the damn cable stitch is so difficult is exactly what makes it so sought-after. Poor children in Third World countries could never manage it. Which is why we have to pay Americans to make the cable knit legwarmers. Which is why they cost a fortune! Golly, cable knit is soooo chic.

      Amb, you’re too good to me! You give me a guest post AND a bloggy shout-out? I’m truly honored.

  14. August 3, 2012 9:17 am

    Two things: one, that leg pose that the woman is doing in the first picture only existed in the 80s. Our legs have since evolved in such a way that we are now incapable of contorting our bodies so. Two, rust? REALLY? Rust? This is the color you want to impress us with first?

    • August 3, 2012 9:10 pm

      Two things: one, you’re hilarious. Two, you’re hilarious. Bonus thing: I didn’t even notice the out-of-date leg pose until you mentioned it. You nailed it on that one.

  15. August 3, 2012 1:19 pm

    “A look that’s ALL YOURS!” with the subtext “because no one else would be caught dead wearing them.”

    • August 3, 2012 8:52 pm

      Indeed. It’s like when people wrote in my high school yearbook that I was “unique” — aw, that’s so sweet of you people to tell me I’m a total freak.

  16. August 3, 2012 3:28 pm

    Oh how I wish I could find the infamous picture of me as a kid wearing my leg warmers (complete with purple bodysuit, tights, and slinky bracelet)…If I find it, I’ll be sure to post it. :-)

    I actually have a pair of leg warmers that I wear now. I got them for Christmas last year and they indeed served the purpose of keeping my legs warm. They are magenta wool, and YES, they are cable knit! :) (:

    • August 3, 2012 9:08 pm

      Another vote for legwarmers! Consider me a changed woman today. I will own a pair of legwarmers before winter. I can assure you of this. It will happen.

      That photo? You need to find that and send it in to be Dynomited!

      • August 4, 2012 2:39 pm

        Angie! I found the picture! :-) I totally forgot to mention my ballet slippers too…too bad I’m hiding my slinky bracelet, but I do have my colored bead necklace showing…I would love to be Dynomited. ;-) What’s the best way to send my pic to you?

      • August 5, 2012 9:15 pm

        Hooray! Send it to my blog email address, which is linked off my Contact page.

  17. rachelocal permalink
    August 3, 2012 7:53 pm

    I had a pair of purple and white striped leg warmers. I remember locking myself in my brother’s “workout” room and pretending to film my very own workout DVD ala Jane Fonda. My brother knocked loudly on the door and said, “I’m telling mom you have on a leotard and your purple legwarmers.” I don’t know why that was a crime but
    I remember rocking those legwarmers. Legwarmers are da bomb.

    • August 3, 2012 9:04 pm

      Oh, wow. I can’t believe I never did this. Many a night I holed up in my bedroom in 6th grade, sitting in front of my full-length mirror while lip-syncing, pretending to star in my own music videos. But never in my wildest imagination did I think to star in my own workout video! Rachel, you complete me.

  18. August 4, 2012 2:00 am

    Thank you for this expose on the bad fashion option available for pre-teen girls in 1983. Mine were red with Christmas trees on them. I even wore them in the summer. Shudder.

    • August 5, 2012 8:53 pm

      Christmas legwarmers! What a brilliant idea. I would’ve loved to own a pair for every holiday.

  19. August 4, 2012 11:17 am

    the scary thing is our local shops are selling leg warmers right now. I bought a pair, but only wear them in the house :)

    • August 5, 2012 8:59 pm

      I’m going to be wearing them this winter — I’m not kidding. Maybe underneath sweatpants would be a good look?

  20. August 4, 2012 11:59 am

    My theory: knee-high boots on women are sexy. Always have been, always will be. Add to that tights and/or a mini-skirt for that “Valkyrie warrior” thing and you’re on the elite circuit. Leg warmers are knee-high boots & tights for the jazzercise set. All the valkyrie, none of the clunk.

    That’s my theory. Enjoy.

    • August 5, 2012 9:01 pm

      It’s nice to get the man’s point of view around this powder room of women. Dave from 1pointperspective seemed to recall that legwarmers were for hiding cankles. So how’s that for sexy?

  21. August 4, 2012 12:48 pm

    I used to wear them going to and fro ballet lessons over my tights. I also wore them when I ice skated. Mine were pink, purple, and cream striped. Ah, the 80s…

    • August 5, 2012 9:04 pm

      Legwarmers with ice skates or legwarmers with roller skates were just about my favorite ’80s fashion collaboration.

  22. August 4, 2012 2:26 pm

    Sadly, I never owned a pair. What?? Guys can’t wear them? Oh, I see.

    Now I’m picturing Arnold in leg warmers saying, “I’ll be back!”

    Wow, that’s pretty wierd.

    • August 4, 2012 6:40 pm

      No, MJ, John Travolta wore legwarmers. In that horrible, awful, hemorrhoid of a sequel to the fabulous Saturday Night Fever – you know, that movie that almost put the nail in the coffin of his career? He had a hard time recovering from those leg warmers, so count yourself lucky you missed the LW train.

      • August 5, 2012 9:08 pm

        Holy crap. I think you’re right, Peg. He also wore an awful headband in that movie. Yes, career-killer right there. Thank the good Lord for the Look Who’s Talking trilogy, which rescued him on the brink of his legwarmer-induced suicide. It was there that he had the chance to offer up some of the finest acting work ever exhibited in the world of film.

    • August 5, 2012 9:10 pm

      I’m so glad Peg reminded me of John Travolta in Stayin’ Alive — otherwise I’d worry that legwarmers were not an Equal Opportunity Fashion Trend.

  23. August 4, 2012 6:39 pm

    I never had the courage to rock a pair of legwarmers. I mean I was an adult by then, and where would I have worn them? But I did latch on to the socks with 8″ of slouch at the ankle (with matching headband). I latched on with the bite of a pit-bull and wouldn’t let go as I strutted my stuff to aerobics class every week. With black, shiny Lycra tights. And did I mention white slouchy socks? And a striped leotard with a belt.

    Yup. I did that. Wonder how my life would have turned out differently if I had mauve legwarmers?

    • August 5, 2012 9:12 pm

      Slouchy socks trump legwarmers — mainly it comes down to stamina. Legwarmers were a fleeting trend, lasting perhaps three years at most. Whereas I believe there were kids in college in the mid-90s still sporting the slouchy sock look. I tried not to stare and point too much — fortunately for them, this was only detected if they paired said socks with extra-tapered jeans.

      • August 6, 2012 10:35 am

        Extra-tapered jeans – ouch! Mentally wincing at 80s me in high wasted, extra- tapered jeans worn with a shirt (tucked in) with shoulder pads so wide I looked like a linesman with the Chicago Bears.

      • August 20, 2012 11:14 am

        That look is back, Peg. I will expect to see you sporting it again in the next couple of years.

  24. August 5, 2012 8:01 am

    beige is lucious?

  25. russelllindsey permalink
    August 5, 2012 7:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde and commented:
    Leg warmers? Really? I’d love to know why they became a fad in the first place. I barely remember them, although I know I had at least a pair as a very young child. I’m surprised she didn’t mention Jane Fonda’s workout records (yes, records) or the Get In Shape Girl stuff marketed to self-conscious tweens who didn’t just feel bad enough about their body image already.

    • August 5, 2012 8:51 pm

      Thanks for the reblog, Lindsey! I actually owned a Miss Piggy aerobics record. I only wanted it because of the fact that Miss Piggy was wearing spandex and legwarmers on the album cover.

      • russelllindsey permalink
        August 5, 2012 8:54 pm

        Anything with Miss Piggy on it was worth having! Or her beloved Kermie :D

        To this day I have memories of my Mom working out to her Jane Fonda records.


      • August 5, 2012 8:56 pm

        She was definitely the It thing back then!

  26. August 21, 2012 1:06 pm

    Guess who knows exactly how to knit cabled legwarmers? Not in rust, mind you, but perhaps in luscious beige…

    The knitting geek in me can confirm that the cable stitch is actually warmer than a regular old knit stitch. Maybe that’s the functional part: cable-knit legwarmers are *even warmer* than regular legwarmers! (Disclaimer: please don’t wear in the middle of a Texan summer)

    • August 22, 2012 8:17 pm

      That is exactly what someone else commented (cable knit = warmest legwarmers ever) and I’m so pissed that I didn’t know this and went and bashed on cable knit. Instead, cable knit is the greatest thing on earth. Why am I not wearing cable knit legwarmers every winter?

      Oh Great One, you impress me with your crafty artisan talents.

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