by Stephanie Saline

It started innocently enough when I wore my LL Cool J t-shirt to the gym. Sure, my drawers are filled with snazzy yoga tanks and sleek running tops, but there was something in the air that was more ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ than lithe workout pony. I shimmied into my standard issue skin-tight capris and, because it was cold and there was a good five inches of skin between where my pants ended and my ankle socks began, I added the finishing touch to my outfit with (wait for it) . . . legwarmers. 

At first, I thought nothing of it. But once at the gym, it was clear that magic was afoot. As soon as I took off my coat, my friend Michael chuckled, “Oh hey! LL Cool J!” and, music nerd that he is, started to rattle off album titles and trivia. “I don’t really remember that stuff,” I told him, “but yeah, his songs take me back.”  

I took off my legwarmers and wrapped my hands for boxing. Halfway through the class, a woman came over to me, beaming, “My mom has such a CRUSH on LL Cool J!” She went on to tell me all about how her mom thinks he’s so sexy and dreams of going to one of his concerts, to bask in it like a Mediterranean sunbather. 

A few weeks later, my yoga teacher complimented me on my outfit. I’d dressed myself in the dark in two purple shirts, blue workout pony capris, and (wait for it) . . . legwarmers. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t trying to be hip; my ankles get cold, and I hadn’t done laundry.   

When I was in the second grade, I wore the same thing to school every day: a leotard, a pleated plaid wool skirt, Kangaroos sneakers with the zippered pocket on the side — where I kept a penny — and (do you see where this is going?) . . . legwarmers.  

On a recent afternoon walk, I had an inkling to peek inside a shop I’d never been to before, on the main street of our shopping district. As soon as I walked in the door, my eyes caught sight of the most wonderful legwarmers. Knit from alpaca’s wool, they were light blue, dark blue, and brown, with a snowflake pattern in grey. As soon as I saw them, the little girl inside me said, “I must have those!” The adult me obeyed, bought them, plunked them in my backpack, and walked home like the cat who had caught the canary.  

But I’m beginning to think that these are no ordinary legwarmers. Because every time I wear them, extraordinary things happen. It’s like a magic carpet ride. The most quotidian outings become cutting room floor scenes from Flashdance; people respond differently to Legwarmer Me. My Legwarmers have what I can only assume are magical powers. They get people to open up and tell me things they wouldn’t otherwise.  

Case in point: I was FaceTiming with my friend Wendy in San Francisco. She was reluctant to tell me, as she sat on her deck in a tank and sunglasses getting tan, how warm and sunny the weather is out in California. Sounds wonderful, I told her, but the cold weather here just means I get to wear my legwarmers.  She insisted I show her my gams and their knit accoutrements. And when I did, she told me this story:  

“When I was eight, I took the city bus to school every day. I had the same bus driver. And he always looked out for me. After a few months, one day I got on the bus, and he handed me a gift. It was legwarmers. They were red, white, and blue. What was also cool was that my grandma happened to live on the same street as the bus route, so she would wait by her window for us to go by so she could wave at me, and my bus driver knew this so he would slow down so I could see her.” She said she hadn’t thought of that story in years.  

Legwarmers are a ridiculous piece of clothing, I’ll grant you. And yet, when I pull them on, I can’t help but feel I’m summoning a bit of magic. They connect me with the delight I felt dressing myself as a kid, and get the people around me telling me their stories. And they really do keep my ankles warm.

A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, New York, Stephanie Saline spent one decade on adventures in Japan, Seattle, and Montana, and another decade building a popular copywriting business. She now leads writing workshops for women. “Every woman I know is a hero on a journey – and writing about it helps us see it.” Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange.com.