The History of Legwarmers

By Jen Drake

Legwarmers emerged in the late 1970s, peaked in popularity in the early 1980s, and were out of fashion by the late 1980s. Though the trend was short-lived, legwarmers remain a famous pop culture symbol of the 1980s. They were featured in movies and made fashionable by celebrities. Today, they are used primarily for function, not fashion.

Dancer Attire

Legwarmers emerged in the late 1970s as a functional accessory for dancers. It is important for ballerinas to keep their leg muscles warm and limber, therefore legwarmers serve as a useful addition to a dancer's typical practice outfit. Typically, ballet dancers wear black legwarmers to match their standard black and pink practice outfits.

Gym Attire

Many gym buffs found legwarmers useful. Shortly after legwarmers became popular with dancers, fitness fanatics began using them to keep their muscles warm. Jane Fonda popularized legwarmers when she wore them in her famous 1980s workout videos.

Fashion and Pop Culture

Though Jane Fonda was the chief trendsetter, many other celebrities wore legwarmers in the 1980s. Singers such as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna sported legwarmers, turning them into a fashion accessory rather than gym gear. By 1982, legwarmers came out in many colors, including turquoise, hot pink and orange—as opposed to just the standard ballet black. Legwarmers became pop culture icons when they were featured in the movie "Footloose."

Decline of Legwarmers

Legwarmers proved to be a fad, having only achieved real popularity for about 3 to 5 years. Legwarmers largely fell out of fashion in the mid-to-late 1980s. By the early 1990s, gym attire had shifted from body-hugging to baggy, and legwarmers no longer fit the style. Celebrities and runway models also stopped wearing legwarmers as a fashion statement.

New Uses for Legwarmers

Legwarmers are still used today, though now they are completely functional rather than fashionable. Bicycle riders use legwarmers—as well as warmers for many other body parts—to keep their muscles warm, especially in cold weather. Companies such as Bike Radar sell spandex leg warmers, knee warmers, arm warmers, head warmers and many other types of muscle warmers. Ballet and ballroom dancers still use legwarmers during practices. Many of the professional dancers on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" routinely wear legwarmers during rehearsals.