The Bare-Legged Look

Gaby Deslys“Victorian women considered even the merest glimpse of female leg indecent– much more so if the leg was unclad. Right up to the present times, no fashion-conscious woman would go stockingless– despite a virtual ban on them by the British government during the Second World War because of material shortages. Even when supplies of wartime cotton and rayon stockings ran out, many women used specially prepared leg make-up.

The first real attempt to abandon stockings was made during the First World War by actress , mistress of King Manuel of Portugal. She shocked women and amused men by declaring that she would not wear stockings again until Germany surrendered to the Allies. In the 1920s Hollywood femme fatale Pola Negri went bare-legged, and actress Joan Crawford discarded stockings for evening wear in 1926.

In 1934, after a long debate, the fashion weekly Sketch concluded that ‘going bare-legged is inartistic and tends to spoil the softness of skin’. The British government’s official disapproval of stockings came in 1942, when the Board of Trade warned that if women did not stop wearing them in summer, there would be none by winter.

As late as the 1960s, matrons in Melbourne, Australia, disapproved when model Jean Shrimpton appeared as guest of honour at Flemington racecourse, hatless, gloveless– and stockingless. Then in 1983 the Princess of Wales attended a Government House party in Canberra with her elegant legs covered only by a golden suntan: the bare-legged look had finally won the royal seal of approval. Nobody could argue with that.”

Reader’s Digest Book of Facts, published by the Readers’ Digest Association Limited, 1985.