The pretty ankle contest” appear in the early 1900s as special shows within women’s beauty competitions. Contestants would have to stand behind a curtain to conceal their bodies, so that all that could be seen was below the knee – legs clad in thick stockings and shoes on their feet.
The concealment was to encourage reluctant women to participate in the contest. One newspaper advised in 1927: “Older ladies need not feel timid about entering the contest. They have as much chance as their daughters.”
The judge, often a policeman or a clerk, would walk up and down and judge the prettiest ankles – such as seen in the pictures collected in this article. Some pageants also judged prettiest shoulders, arms and legs.
These shows often served as promotions for hosiery companies, with winners receiving free stockings from the event sponsors, not to mention fame and the crown of the prettiest ankle.
Ankles were seen as desirable as far back as the 18th century, with one lonely heart advertised in the 1770s stating “shapely ankle preferred” – a rather shocking request for that era. However they didn’t quite come into vogue as fashionably “provocative” and a source of titillation until women’s hemlines began to rise in the early 20th century.
After the Second World War, with much more on view – take the swinging hemlines of the 1960s – ankle-judging competitions largely fell out of fashion. But the obsession with the segmentation of women’s bodies lives on.
(Photo credit: Keystone / Getty Images).