Leg warmers are traditionally used by dancers to keep their lower legs warm during rehearsal in order to prevent injury. In the 1980s they became a popular fashion accessory. They continue to be used regularly in the dancing world for function and to find their way into fashion trends from time to time.
Leg warmers are meant to keep muscles warm for dancers or other performing artists, while warming up so as not to injure a "cold" muscle or joint, especially during the cold winter months. Dancers who may have injuries or feel tight in their ankles, calves or knees might wear leg warmers even in warmer seasons so as to avoid further injury.
Leg warmers have been used for decades by dancers of all types. But they reached popular fashion culture in the early 1980s especially after being featured in movies such as "Flashdance" and "Footloose." They became fashionable to wear with leggings, miniskirts and even over skinny jeans. Like a lot of '80s fashion the leg warmer trend quickly passed, however it has seen a bit of a mainstream revival since 2005, as dance retailers tried to use the resurging fashion trend to sell more of the items.
Leg warmers come in many different styles and materials, but most look like a long sock without a foot. Most are knit from various materials, cotton, acrylic, Lycra, silk or nylon. Some leg warmers have stirrups in order to stay closer to the top of the foot. Leg warmers also come in various lengths, from covering just the ankles to reaching several inches above the knee.
To dancers, leg warmers serve a specific function and always have. To the rest of the general public, leg warmers symbolize the over-the-top fashion trends of the '80s. They also serve as an easy and popular pattern for knitters.
Whether being used for dancing or fashion, leg warmers serve the purpose of keeping legs warm. While this might not have been good on summer nights at the club in the '80s it helps to keep serious dancers from injury due to working out on cold muscles or joints.