May seem inconceivable to the x,y and z generations but during the Second World War when there was a shortage of materials, nylons were in very short supply and many young girls painted their legs with skin paint, then using a special pencil had a straight line drawn down the back to give the appearance of a seam.
A century before long and elegant legs were a mark of style, wait for it, not for women but for their gender opposite! The well proportioned male leg had it all and was an accepted sign of breeding and aristocracy. The long shapely leg became associated with moral probity, decency, worthiness and reliability.
The cut of clothes and wearing tall hats also added to the streamline athletic appearance which remained the hallmark of aristocracy. The short fat hairy leg didn’t quite make it and was a clear sign of a lack of breeding. Perhaps that is why Napoleon wore lifts in his shoes. The less well endowed and sneaky would secretly slip on false leg pads, similar to shin pads just to make their legs look full bodied.
Legs to the nineteenth century man became their source of erotic fantasy. Not their own, I am relieved to report, but the legs of Nineteenth Century women were considered very sexy. Those of course were safely hidden under long skirts and a glimpse of stocking was, as we know, something shocking. However that did not stop men from having a look. At the time garden swings, adult size became the craze. Why? Well use your imagination, as the ladies swung graciously, the hem of their skirts lifted to and fro, revealing a lovely expanse of leg.
In eager anticipation men would nervously take a sip from their silver, hip flask. Yes, you have got it, the container was leg shaped. Perhaps to calm the nerves shag was required, well men could take their pleasure from boot shaped snuff boxes. All of which enjoyed a great deal of popularity at this time.
Just when you thought it was safe to take your hands from the children’s ears, all this concentration on the lower leg was happening at a time when Freud and his colleagues were telling the Western World about sexual symbolism. To avoid any embarrassment, legs became known as lower limbs, and wings were the preferred term to describe the leg of the fowl. But this does not in any way explain why there was an absolute craze at the time for foot shaped ice creams and sausages in the US, Australia and Europe.
In 1895, when the Can Can was all the rage, George du Maurier published Trilby which became the most popular novel of its time. The story was a country girl, Trilby from Ireland who went to Paris to seek her fortune as an actress and fell under the spell of Svengali. Her natural beauty made up for any lack of talent and for effect Trilby walked barefoot in high society. The modern equivalent would be like going topless. Trilby was the 50 Shades of Grey of its time and when it was made into stage play, every time the actress playing the lead appeared barefoot, it causes riots in the theatre and surrounding streets. Such was the power of the bare leg and foot.
McDowell C 1997 The man of fashion :Peacock males and prefect gentlemen London: Thames and Hudson