Vintage Fashion Meets Contemporary Style: Leg Warmers

If you’re of a certain age, leg warmers bring to mind brightly colored workout wear from the early 1980s. (Cringe!) Yet they do more than what the name implies—keep legs warm. In her article from PieceWork’s January/February 2016 issue, “Leg Warmers: Protection in Winter and Summer,” Carol Huebscher Rhoades expands our appreciation for this practical apparel item.

Leg warmers

Traditional leggings often incorporated stirrups to help hold the ankle section securely around the foot. Watercolor drawing by Vicki Square.

Winter Warmth

One wonders if the slouchy 1980s-fashion trend might have been inspired by historical leg warmers. Carol points out that, “Traditional full-length leg warmers from the Austrian region of Tirol often featured horizontal pleats cascading down the leg. Today’s crumpled-look loose tube is an easy way of reproducing older fashions that had welts, tucks, and ridges knitted or crocheted in.” Pleats and welts trap body heat and turn a design feature into a functional attribute.

leg warmers

Leg warmers could be as plain or embellished as the maker wanted or had time to create. Watercolor drawing by Vicki Square.

Practical Protection

It’s not unexpected to learn that people living in colder regions, such as Finland and Estonia, wore leg warmers during the winter. Yet did you know that leg warmers were worn in summer too and made of linen and cotton, rather than wool? Carol explains, “The summer leg coverings were worn for protection against brush, hay, and stubble while the women worked in the fields. I can also imagine that protection against stinging insects was of concern.”

Leg warmers

Carol Huebscher Rhoades’s inspiration for these came from traditional Estonian and Finnish leg warmers. Photo by Joe Coca.

Contemporary Style

Modern legs can easily benefit from both of these aspects: warmth and protection. Under skirts or over leggings, leg warmers not only add a dash of style to your wardrobe but also keep you warm and protected out in the urban jungle. Snag free tights are a huge plus! Carol’s “Winter Light Leg Warmers” update old-world fashion and practicality in a pair of leg warmers that are right on trend.

The history behind the timeless needlework is what PieceWork is all about. The PieceWork 2016 Collection CD contains Carol’s “Winter Light Leg Warmers” and article plus so much more. All six issues are packed with projects inspired by the past but designed for the modern era and the stories that connect us to our textile heritage—priceless!

—Elizabeth

Featured Image: Detail of “Winter Light Leg Warmers.” Photo by Joe Coca.


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