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Old-Timey Ankle Taboo

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The Belle Was Slowly Pealing, 1908

"In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
But now, God knows — anything goes!"
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If a show or movie is set in the 1800s or early 1900s, or makes references to that era, expect mention of The Ankle Taboo: A display of bare ankle will be referred to as pornography, and the sight of one will induce much shock, scandal and monocle-popping. Other times, "can't show your ankles" will simply be used as shorthand to sum up all of the repressiveness of that era.

While it's often Played for Laughs, the amount of historical truth behind this trope is dubious for multiple reasons:

  • Everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and getting into or out of carriages, would probably lead to plenty of exposed ankles in Victorian life, especially for working-class women.
  • Dresses for young girls tended to have shorter hemlines than those for adult women, who would don longer skirts once they came of age.
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  • Theatrical costumes often showed far more leg, at least until knee level.
  • The Victorian Era was a particularly lush time for prostitution, and showing bare ankles — among many other things — was probably all in a day's work for a brothel girl.
  • Surviving examples of women's hosiery and footwear, particularly from the late 19th century through The Edwardian Era, are often very, very fancy, with lavish embroidery and decoration. This is a pretty fair indication that many women were aware of the erotic power of the exposed foot and ankle as a tool of flirtation or seduction, and dressed up their feet and legs appropriately whenever so inclined.

Note that a lot of things we tolerate today were severely frowned upon in those days (and vice versa), but the exposed ankle is probably one of the easiest, quickest, and (in 21st-century culture) silliest examples of Values Dissonance that a show can portray, and thus works best for a quick gag.

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A subtrope of Fully-Clothed Nudity and Our Nudity Is Different. See also Changed My Jumper for when this comes into play with time travelers.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Offical Doujin had a chapter where Fujiwara gets drunk eating alcoholic chocolate and offers to show Shirogane a girl's "secret place". So she pulls up her skirt... and shows him her knees and ankles.
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!: When Katarina went to the lake to cool down one summer, a scandalised Jeord and Keith frantically covered each other's eyes when she took off her shoes and lifted up her dress to her knees to play in the shallows.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Archie Comics comic, the gang gets transported back into time. Veronica is arrested for having her ankles exposed.
  • Viz has published Victorian era editions of the contemporary "Razzle" magazine (which they would euphemistically describe as an Art Pamphlet). They call this "Enrazzlement" and it largely consists of old time photographs of ladies desporting their delicate between-foot-and-calf areas.

    Comic Strips 
  • MAD featured a Monroe strip where the title character went on a fishing trip with his grandfather and at one point is shown his grandfather's collection of skin magazines. Monroe is disappointed by the fact that none of the women in the magazines are naked, but his grandfather disagrees.
    Monroe: They're all wearing clothes!
    Grandpa: Not quite. You can see just a hint of ankle. And look! Toes!

    Fan Works 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom the joke about "unshorn fetlocks" started out as the pony equivalent of this. There's nothing in canon about it — but a piece of fan-art depicted Princess Luna, who had been stuck in the moon for a millennium, freaking out at the sight of stallions having unshorn fetlocks, and fans turned that into a meme.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010): As a metaphorical middle finger to the society snobs who tried to force her into a marriage, Alice Kingsleigh departs their company by lifting her skirts well above her ankles and performing a mocking dance.
  • A Man with a Maid: Jack describes Alice's family thusly:
    Jack Armstrong: [narrating] Her father, Reverend Faversham, and her mother were absolute pillars of Victorian morality. They were the kind of people who had little skirts made for the piano's legs to ensure the modesty of the home.
  • Les Visiteurs: In a medieval version of this trope, the king considers his mistress lifting her dress past her ankles to be incredibly risqué.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: Used as a gag when Carina Smyth strips out of her heavy outer garments so she can dive off a boat and escape pursuit by Salazar's men. Henry Turner, who is in the boat with her, becomes flustered and tries to stop her out of modesty the more she takes off, while (Captain) Jack Sparrow (also in the boat) gets increasingly excited. When she stops stripping and jumps into the water, Jack angrily rebukes him for trying to dissuade her. Henry happily says that he saw her ankles, while Jack quips they might have seen more than that.
  • R.I.P.D.: Because Bobby Hayes was from The Wild West, his favorite thing to ogle at on a woman is her ankles.
  • The Wrong Box has the hero being visibly flushed by the sight of the heroine's ankle. She reacts in the same way when he rolls up his sleeve, revealing his wrist.

    Literature 
  • The Difference Engine: After negotiating the services of a prostitute, Mallory asks for a quick look at her ankles before they leave for her apartment. It's treated with the same illicit thrill as a panty shot.
  • Discworld, Making Money: Professor Flead has been dead for several centuries but is still as randy as he was when alive. So when Moist makes a deal with him to let him haunt a strip club, he asks if it's "smutty" and if the women show their ankles.
  • Flashman: George MacDonald Fraser's creation was born at just that point in time when attiudes were changing and prudishness descended on Britain. His whole life could be seen as a rebellion against Victorian morality — which at the other end of his life had become the ankle taboo. Something Flashman was somewhat opposed to.
  • In More Than Human, Alicia and Evelyn Kew have been raised in isolation by their sex-hating father, who dresses them in Victorian-style outfits and trains them to quickly cover their ankles if they become exposed.
  • The Once and Future King: During the castle's Christmas party, a very old man sings a song about "Wold King-Cole", just as he does every year. The first verse is about King Cole accidentally seeing a lady's ankle ("Ee could'ernt elp it, / ee Ad to."), and the song is implied to get progressively more risqué from there.
  • Shadows And Strongholds: While this trope is not often associated with the Middle Ages, author Elizbeth Chadwick invokes it at the wedding of Fulk II Fitzwarin and Hawise de Dinan. As the teenage newlyweds are leaving the church, the bride — who has a well-established mischievous streak at this point — flagrantly exposes her ankles and dashes with the groom into the feasting hall (to the amusement of her indulgent father).
  • The Stand: 108-year-old Abigail Freemantle recalls appearing on a talent show back in 1902. Before her, a woman performed a "racy French dance", showing her ankles "to the raucous whistles, cheers, and stamping feet of the men in the audience."
  • Time Enough for Love: Lazarus Long mentions when he travels back in time to 1917 that he is surprised at the thrill it gives him to see a woman's ankle when it happens to get exposed. He also mentions that he is careful not to let anyone catch him looking.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dead Man's Gun: In "The Highwayman", a group of traveling salesmen in a boarding house are admiring the pulchritude of a female guest arriving at the house. As she climbs down off the buckboard, the camera zooms in on her foot as she lifts her skirt. Of course, one of the salesmen sells ladies shoes, and so has particular reason to pay attention to her feet.
  • Horrible Histories: The "Surfing the Web Safely" video has a prudish Victorian going online and being shocked by all kinds of smut: such as women showing their ankles, or appearing in public without gloves.
  • Married... with Children: Al Bundy has an Imagine Spot where he's an old west cowboy and after stopping a hold up at a general store he asks for a nudie magazine called "Bare Ankle".
  • Mr Selfridge: Gordon's Porn Stash consists of photos of women sitting on beds wearing knee-length dresses. Very racy by the standards of 1910.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries two-part episode "Stroll on the Wild Side", a shy librarian is found to have a rose tattooed just above one ankle. The coroner Dr. Grace shows it to Murdoch and they discuss its rarity and how it could be revealed by the woman raising her skirt. Viewers also learn such things are very rare: there's only one tattoo artist in the whole city of Toronto at the time (circa 1900), and the artist tells Murdoch that the librarian was his only female customer.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: As Doug McClure unrolls a map in the submarine in "The Land That Time forgot".
    "Hello Miss November 1916! Check out those ankles!"
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Up the Long Ladder" has the Enterprise pick up a colony who live like stereotype Irishmen from centuries ago. In one scene, a Fiery Redhead comes onto Riker by showing him her ankles and asking where she can wash her feet. It's apparently more of a traditional custom than a real issue of modesty, since she spends half the episode baring her midriff.
  • In the first episode of Year Of The Rabbit, a comedy detective series set in Victorian London, the main character (played by Matt Berry) visits a seedy East End theatre where the act on stage is a (fully-dressed) woman playing a housewife teasing the plumber by showing him her ankles.

    Music 
  • From The Shins' "Turn A Square":
    Just a glimpse of an ankle and I
    React like it's 1805

    Music Videos 
  • In the music video for "Amish Paradise" by "Weird Al" Yankovic, two Amish teens are seen looking at a supposedly erotic magazine, with the centerfold girl lifting up her long skirt to show her ankle. This illustrates how the Amish live by very old-fashioned values.

    Theatre 
  • When the Mother tries to incite the Father to "woo" her in The Trail to Oregon!, she does so by seductively sticking her ankle out from her dress.
  • "Oom-pah-pah" from Oliver!:
    Pretty little Sally
    Goes walking down the alley
    Displays her pretty ankles to all of the men
    They can see her garters
    But not for free-and-gratis—
    An inch or two, and then she knows
    When to say when!

    Web Comics 
  • In TwoKinds, this is subverted in the Bastion society, where otherwise complete nudity can be tolerated... as long as the ankles are covered.

    Web Original 
  • The CollegeHumor page on "If the Internet Always Existed" has bare ankles on the 1900 version of YouTube.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • "V is for Mystery": In this Sherlock Holmes-themed episode, John Watson (a.k.a. Brian) is first attracted to Constance (a.k.a. Lois) when they pass on the street and she strategically bares her ankle to his gaze.
  • Scary Godmother: The first animated special has Count Max raise a fuss over his wife Ruby having her ankles exposed as one example of his old-fashioned ways.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Lady Bouvier's Lover": Marge's mother, Jacqueline Bouvier, recounts how she was arrested for wearing an Old-Timey Bathing Suit that exposed her ankles.
    • "Simpsons Tall Tales": Has a segment set in the 1800s, where the buy-your-photo section of a log flume ride has to deal with a shot of a lady "flashing her private parts" (a la the "Flash Mountain" phenomenon). It's her ankle, and the man running the shop claims he'll take care of it before sneakily storing it in his pocket as if it were porn.
    • "All About Lisa": Bart and Homer become coin collectors and research a double-struck "Kissing Lincolns" penny, which was accidentally created in 1917 when the sight of a woman's ankle caused three days of rioting at the Philadelphia mint.
    • "The Burns and the Bees": Mr. Burns' cheerleaders for his basketball team, the Basket-Belles, do this. Due to Values Dissonance, the spectators boo them for being boring.
      Mr. Burns: Enough of this vulgarity! Back to your brothels, harlots!
    • "Friends and Family": In the virtual family simulation made for Mr. Burns, Marge's ankles are covered by a Censor Box.

 
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Henry Sees Carina's Ankles

The sight of a woman's ankles is risque because it's the olden days

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Main / OldTimeyAnkleTaboo

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