What are Legwarmers?

H. Bliss

Legwarmers are clothing accessories that cover the lower leg. A short-term darling of '80s film costume designers, the legwarmer typically is relegated to gyms, ballet studios, and the fashion underground. They are shaped like socks with an open toe, are meant to be worn on the lower legs for warmth or fashion, and can be made of any sweater-like material.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The legwarmer was a popular clothing accessory in the '80s that was born out of a fitness craze. People of all ages wore them, especially those who went to the gym and participated in aerobics classes. A legwarmer can be loose, tight-fitting, tight-knit, or bunched-up, depending on the fashion situation. For women with weak calves who want to show off their thighs, the legwarmer can offer a good way to hide lower-leg shortcomings.

A frequently referenced example of failed style in the time of acid wash jeans, the legwarmer was popularized by many '80s films — most notably in the movie Flashdance. Other films of the decade that prominently featured the legwarmer include Fame and Footloose. Once the legwarmer became popular, it became fashionable to wear a brightly colored pair almost anywhere.

Looking like sweater material, fashion knit legwarmers were the most common type. They were not always a fashion faux pas and are still used by athletes and dancers. Dancewear legwarmers are commonly made of soft sweatshirt material and are usually designed to go over tights, thereby keeping a dancer's lower leg warm during practice and protecting the tendons of the foot and lower leg.

Stirrup legwarmers have an opening for the toes along with a strap around the bottom of the foot to keep the legwarmer in place. Stirrups are especially common on youth legwarmers to help keep the legwarmer from sliding around. The strap that holds the legwarmer in place is often stretchy and elastic, but is situated low enough to hide inside the shoe.

Legwarmers have rarely appeared in fashion since the '80s, although they do appear from time to time in retro fashion collections or at '80s-themed parties and shows. Despite the fashion backlash, the accessory is still popular in dance studios and fitness centers. Parents in cold climates often dress small children in child legwarmers to protect legs from frostbite.

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