Retro 1980s leg warmers: Look back at the iconic fashion fad

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Retro 1980s leg warmers

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Originally, leg warmers were worn by dancers, who wore them routinely during classes and practice.

And then came the 1983 movie “Flashdance.” Suddenly leg warmers were everywhere, and could reliably be found on the legs of girls in junior high and high schools — especially those with no interest in dance. (How else do you explain wearing them over jeans?)

Although the popularity of leg warmers in the ’80s was a pretty short-lived fad (in terms of longevity, it was right up there with the brief but sad ruffled prairie shirt trend), it wasn’t Pet Rock-level nonsense. 

For a couple of years, these stretchy, slouchy sweaters in the shape of a footless sock were a trendy, colorful way to show some creative flair, to prove that you were up on the latest fashions… and, yes, even to warm up your legs when it was cold outside.

Of course, you can still buy leg warmers today — and you won’t even need to navigate through a crush of schoolgirls at the mall to get a pair you like.

Jennifer Beals with leg warmers in the 1980s movie 'Flashdance'
Jennifer Beals with leg warmers in the 1980s movie ‘Flashdance
Leg warmers: A colorful, yet practical, fashion fad (1983)

By Beverly Garrison – Johnson City Press (Johnson City, Tennessee) January 28, 1983

Remember winters in the ’60s, when miniskirts were popular? A woman’s poor legs and knees were usually blue from the cold.

Thank goodness today’s latest fad is more practical. The single biggest accessory for winter 1982-83 seems to be leg warmers — colorful knit accessories that resemble sweaters for the legs.

Danskin leg warmers (1982)
Vintage Danskin leg warmers from 1982

This year, a women’s legs may be blue, or green, or yellow, or multi-striped. Leg warmers come in all colors and patterns that resemble modern art. New pastels for spring are now coming into area stores.

Margaret Patrick, manager of Parklane Hosiery in the Mall, said leg warmers were the best-selling single item during Christmas. “You wouldn’t believe the number we sold,” she said.

Vintage leg warmers - worn with jeans - in the eighties
A vintage ’80s leg warmers pattern to knit from Leisure Arts

“You’ll find leg warmers on everyone from age three to people in nursing homes,” Ms. Patrick said. “They really provide warmth for older people who sit around a lot.”

But the biggest market for the accessory is among teenagers, who wear them over their jeans.

Knitted leg warmers how-to 1982

“Lots of older people wear the leg warmers under their slacks, for additional warmth,” said Ms. Patrick. “And I’ve even sold them to men who work outside, and also wear them under their slacks.”

Leg warmers were first worn by dancers to keep their legs warm and prevent muscle cramps. “Dancers still buy them, of course,” said Ms. Patrick. “They’re just part of the uniform.”

ALSO SEE: Vintage ’80s pantyhose, nylons & tights came in lots of awesome colors & textures

Retro 1980s dancers in tap shoes, leotards and leg warmers

This winter, you’ll see leg warmers on school campuses. And you’ll also see them worn in business offices, grocery stores or shopping.

The most popular way to wear leg warmers is over jeans or cords. Pull them up over the knee, but never thigh high — they need a wrinkled look.

Don’t leave any of your jeans poking out under the leg warmer, and never wear them with high heels.

Happy women in workout fashions from the 1980s

If you’re wearing one of the new short skirts and still want to keep your legs warm, wear opaque stockings and legwarmers with an ankle boot.

It’s permissible to pair leg warmers over opaque stockings with Bermuda shorts.

Leg warmers can be worn in just about every conceivable way, said Ms. Patrick. “It’s a matter of personal preference.”

Leg warmers are fun fashion fad. Enjoy them while they’re here since, like most fads, they probably won’t be around long.

ALSO SEE: These retro ’80s knee-high socks & other sassy sock styles went beyond black & white

Vintage Bernat leg warmers from the 1980s


Actress Heather Locklear in striped legwarmers 

Heather Locklear in leg warmers and leotard


Actress Linda Evans in a blue & white leotard and white leg warmers

DON’T MISS: 50 most popular vintage perfumes from the ’80s

Vintage actress Linda Evans in white leg warmers and a blue and white striped leotard


Joanie Greggains of the old ‘Morning Stretch TV show’ (1982)

Joanie’s sporting some striped red and white workout gear to help her help women thin those thighs.

Joanie Greggains of Morning Stretch TV show in red and white workout gear (1982)


Moody 1980s girl wearing leotards and leg warmers

ALSO SEE: 100 vintage ’80s prom dresses: See the hottest retro styles teen girls wore

Moody 1980s girls wearing leotards and leg warmers


Women in the 80s at a gym/ dance class with leotards, tights & leg warmers

Women in the 80s at gym or dance class with leotards, tights and leg warmers


1980s fashionable fitness gear

1980s fashionable fitness gear


Actress Jane Fonda’s workout – in leg warmers

Remember how big Jane Fonda’s famous workout videos were in the eighties?

Jane Fonda workout - in leg warmers


Peppy preppy pastel workout gear with leg warmers (1980s)

Peppy preppy pastel workout gear with leg warmers (1980s)

NOW SEE THIS: 284+ retro women’s shoes from the ’80s

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