The Right to Bare Legs

As we approach warm weather in North America, we’re presented the opportunity to put cold-weather wardrobes into storage in favor of less burdensome clothing. The lighter-weight attire of spring and summer not only means lighter colors and fabrics, but also entails revealing parts of our bodies that have been under wraps for months. Nowhere is this more obvious than in women’s legwear.

Where textured tights, shaded leggings, and thigh-high boots keep legs concealed for months-on-end in many parts of the U.S. and Canada, summer fashions change the game. A new set options prevail: Cover? Or not to cover?

The “bare leg” trend has gained such momentum in recent years, that it’s not only the most fashionable “legwear” look, but pantyhose have come to be viewed as UNfashionable. If you’re a woman who’s less than thrilled with your skin’s shade, texture, or tone, and you find yourself wishing for fashion days-gone-by, know that you have company.

Women on the “Legs are intended to be covered” side of the argument tend to find greater comfort when a layer of fabric comes between them and the inside of their shoes. Others have zero interest in applying tanning creams, leg makeup, or seeking treatment for spider veins. Many are women in the over-45 demographic who’ve spent the better part of their adult lives donning pantyhose as part of the complete outfit. As with any time in history, though, fashion trends are led by society’s youth. In this case, by women undoubtedly unaffected by any sort of “spider” on the leg that isn’t itself crawling.

Regardless of whether your legs’ appearance leaves you feeling confident, or self conscious, a separate factor plays in the mix if you’re a woman in the business world: that of professional presence. While European women have worn skirts, heels, and bare legs to work for decades, the North American code of professionalism has called for coverage – until now. More and more organizations with appearance policies are loosening standards in response to pressure from women. Even Top 20 Financial firms are accepting bare legs and open-toed shoes. Is it an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” scenario? Who’s to say.

Still, the most conservative of firms, and a great many of those in traditional fields like law and finance, hold firm to the expectation of “dressed” legs. Perhaps for good reason. As an image coach, I look not only at the fashion factor of my clients’ appearance, but first and foremost, at the non-spoken message their attire sends. A key consideration for women in professional business settings, is the focus and attention she maintains for her work quality and spoken messages. Undermining that statement is any appearance element that visually distracts. In other words, if a co-worker is compelled to observe or assess that which is normally hidden (both male and female colleagues have curious tendencies), then a degree of attention is diverted away from her business pitch. This is true whether exposed skin is on the legs, back, midriff, or chest. And beyond the precise moment of distraction, the visual impression makes an indelible mark on her professional brand.

The verdict? That depends. When coaching a client, I collect personal information about lifestyle, professional goals, comfort level, and personal preferences. Each situation calls for its own unique solution.

What will yours be?

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