En español | There are many women age 50-plus who would rather have a root canal, gain an extra 10 pounds or lose their mobile phone before going bare-legged in public. However, we're always open to new ideas despite our extreme reluctance about showing less-than-ideal body parts. For example, we've gotten better about bare arms thanks to the variety of peek-a-boo short sleeves that flutter and billow. Wearing shorts or even a leg-revealing skirt fearlessly is next on our fashion bucket to-do list. Here are 10 steps to get you there.
1. Pinpoint the big problem
Are heavy legs, flabby thighs, chunky calves or thick ankles the issue? Or, are varicose veins, broken capillaries or other skin discolorations causing your leg shyness? While it's possible to have both issues, one or the other is the major concern. Once you identify the specific reason your gams are never visible in broad daylight, it's easier to face up to them and find solutions.
2. Start with shorter cropped pants
Leg-shy women are nearly always in long pants, leggings or jeans 365 days a year. Choosing a mid-calf length pant that's a few inches above the ankles is the first step to leaving your comfort zone. Straight, narrow capri pants — like the Simply Vera Wang Modern Flat Front Capri ($35, kohls.com), Women's Croft & Barrow Effortless Stretch Capris ($36, kohls.com), St. John's Bay Mid Rise Capris ($32, jcpenney.com) or Gloria Vanderbilt Amanda Capri ($48, jcpenney.com) — are long enough to cover discolorations and veins but reveal a little more leg than usual. Those with generous thighs, calves and ankles may feel comfier in wider crops such as the Sonoma Goods for Life Wide-Leg Ankle Pants in Cider Yellow ($44, kohls.com) or Eloquii Cropped Pant with Tie in Raspberry Rose ($70, eloquii.com). You're on your way.
3. Next try a breezy midi skirt — bare-legged
A lightweight, breezy skirt with a wide hemline — like the H&M Calf-length Skirt ($30, hm.com/en_us), Loft Ikat Pull On Midi Skirt ($70, loft.com) or Gap Tie-Belt Button-Front Stripe Midi Skirt ($60, gap.com) — will get you in a leg-baring mood without feeling self-conscious. Pants fans find wearing a skirt in summer heat and humidity sometimes causes chub-rub. (That's the affectionate term we use for skin sensitivity and irritation from friction at the inner thighs.) The simple solution here is to apply a stick deodorant to your inner thighs for a sweat-free glide. When seated, try crossing your legs and pulling that full skirt up to reveal the lower leg, too. It's good practice for the next steps.
4. Now groom your legs for showtime
You don't need supermodel legs (who has them, anyway?), but you do need to exfoliate, shave and moisturize them. Sorry, hairy-leg devotees, but sleek, smooth legs do look slimmer, fresher and more toned than furry ones. If you're worried about discolorations, try a gradual self-tanner like Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer in Fair to Medium, Medium to Tan ($11, ulta.com) or Neutrogena Build a Tan Lotion ($11, walgreens.com). You can also mix tanning drops like Tan-Luxe The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops in Light/Medium or Medium/Dark ($59, ulta.com) or Tanologist Face + Body Drops ($20, ulta.com) into your usual body lotion. The idea is not to change your skin tone, but just to bump up the background color for less contrast with veins, spots or broken capillaries. Remember: Self-tanner for legs only looks natural if you apply it to other bare skin — arms, chest, etc. — for a uniform look. However, leg makeup that matches to your skin tone (now with extended shade ranges) like Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Spray ($16, cvs.com) or Dermablend Leg and Body Makeup ($34, ulta.com) works more like foundation for the face, is transfer-resistant (so no clothing stains) and removes easily with soap and water. Your choice.
5. Now move your hemline up to knee length
Courage! By now you're feeling more leg confident. This is a big deal for those who usually grab pantyhose for security. The most stressless route is wearing a knee-length cover-up, beach dress or shift at the beach or pool. Your leg show will feel less obvious when everyone else is baring bellies, breasts and backs. Or, simply start making public appearances in a knee-length shift or skirt when walking the dog or dashing to the grocery. The motivating move here is to get a pedicure and some new sandals or slides (see tip No. 6) to make showing off something to anticipate.
6. Wear shoes that lengthen and slim your legs
While there is no need for high heels, adding a sporty shoe or sandal with some elevation can extend your legs for a longer, more toned look. We know summer brings out our yen for thongs, gladiator sandals, footed sandals and flip-flops, but remember that every leg shape benefits from the small lift of a casual wedge. Slides, mules or sandals with about a two-inch angled elevation — like the LifeStride Delta ($70, zappos.com), Aerosoles Westfield ($99, zappos.com) or Easy Spirit Evolve Zen ($89, zappos.com) — provide the most stretch without strain or pain. Just be sure to avoid any footwear with ankle straps or ties. Those visually shorten the legs and amplify heavy calves or ankles. Show as much top of the foot as possible with a low vamp or open toes to keep that leg line elongated.
7. Wear shorts around the house
If you don't have any, cut down an old pair of jeans. Now you do! Are they the ideal length? It doesn't matter yet. Just get used to the comfort and bare-ness, the I-don't-care-ness! To crop your jeans, put them on and, looking into a full-length mirror, mark your cutoff point with a pen. Then lay jeans straight on a table or floor and cut straight across both legs. Wash and dry them and cut strings — the frayed edge is right on trend. You'll have a cool pair of shorts that can head outdoors at any time you're ready. For those wanting ready-made denim cutoffs, try Loft Frayed High Rise Skinny Bermuda Shorts in Medium Vintage Indigo Wash ($55, loft.com) or Universal Thread Women's Plus-Size Mid-Rise Bermuda Jean Shorts ($15, target.com) for your at-home tryouts.
8. Now find your perfect shorts fit
Though stores are filled with sassy short-shorts, most women age 50-plus benefit from a just-above-the-knee length in a style that either flows or fits like a glove to give thighs some coverage and shape. Skip any shorts that are boxy, stiff or hover over knee caps and shorten your lower leg. Tailored shorts with a loose leg such as Everlane's The Put-Together Pleat Short ($58, everlane.com) or A New Day Women's High Rise Utility Bermuda Shorts ($23, target.com) are as easy to wear as an A-line skirt and make sitting and crossing legs comfy. Bermudas with a tapered leg — like Loft Bermuda Shorts ($50, loft.com), Madewell High-Rise Long Denim Shorts ($75, madewell.com), J.Crew 10-inch Bermuda Stretch Chino Short ($50, jcrew.com), St. John's Bay Women's Mid Rise 11-inch Bermuda Short ($32, jcpenney.com) or Liz Claiborne Women's Stretch 11-inch Bermuda Short ($37, jcpenney.com) — mold and hold like shape wear. The subtle compression of the stretch blend fabric and slim shape contains belly, thighs and derriere without squeezing.
9. Opt for a sporty skort
While a few brave souls or those in amazing shape might opt for short-shorts with a 4-inch inseam, skorts make going briefer than bermuda length more bearable for the rest of us. With shorts hidden under a short skirt, a skort provides you extra upper thigh, belly and rear coverage while displaying more leg. Women golfers and tennis players over age 50 of every size and shape live in them, but thanks to the athleisure trend skorts have a fresh appeal for the rest of us as shorts substitutes. Look for pull-on styles in stretch nylon or polyester fabric like the Athletic Works Women's Plus Size Woven Commuter Skort ($16, walmart.com) or Athleta Soho Skort in Mineral Brown ($59, athleta.com); drawstring styles like the L.L.Bean Women's Vista Camp Skort in Dusty Olive ($55, llbean.com); or an A-line like EP Pro Women's 17.5-inch Pull On Golf Skort ($75, dickssportinggoods.com). Skorts are better for activities like long walks, hiking or family barbecues. Just pair with a fresh white tee and sneakers, and go!
10. Resolve to get stronger legs ASAP
Like bodies in general, our legs come in all shapes and sizes. One thing that's not changing are the length and proportion of your legs. You can firm them up with exercise, but thick ankles and heavy calves are here to stay. One thing that fortunately has changed forever, however, is the stereotype of “beautiful” legs. Celebs like Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez with athletic bodies have taught us that strong, muscular legs are sexy and that women can have them whether the rest is thick or thin. Try AARP's 10-Minute exercise routines, walk more daily and use the stairs whenever possible. And say buh-bye to bare-leg fears forever.