Should Women Bare Their Legs in the Office?

As the mercury starts to rise, so does the great pantyhose debate.

ByABC News
October 24, 2008, 3:33 PM

May 9, 2009— -- April L. Burke doesn't think bare legs are unattractive -- just unprofessional. So pantyhose are a must at her Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, Lewis-Burke Associates. In a conservative field dominated by big players, she tells her employees, it's crucial to look put together from head to toe.

Still, in her city's suffocating summers, even Burke has trouble with stockings. Her solution as the mercury rises: "I wear slacks a lot," she says.

As the weather heats up, so inevitably does the annual office leg debate, in which women grapple with dictates that can seem designed to keep us as sweaty, uncomfortable and -- many say -- dowdy as possible. In traditional industries, rules about women's summer legs and footwear, whether written or unwritten, can inspire fantasies of mutiny among interns and corner-office executives alike. In finance, law and other professions, even seemingly innocuous summer staples such as cropped pants and open-toe shoes can be verboten.

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But making our own decisions can be worse than a draconian list of don'ts. If your firm has no stance on hosiery but you don't have Malibu Barbie legs, must you wear hose anyway? If you can show toe cleavage, should you? When does stylish cross the line into sexy? "The semiotics of uncovering or covering the leg are unresolved," says Susan Scafidi, a visiting professor at Fordham Law School in New York City who teaches fashion law. "We're beyond a glimpse of stocking being thought of as something shocking, but we're not sure what we think when we see a glimpse of skin."

When Michelle Obama appeared on an episode of The View last summer, talk turned to her legwear -- or lack thereof.

"I stopped wearing pantyhose a long time ago," she said, after the camera had ducked under the table to confirm this fact. It was an uncomfortable, disrespectful moment, as if Mrs. Obama's lack of hose gave the entire nation an excuse to leer at her legs.