To some, a look at the calendar and a consistently warmer forecast would be the clue that it's fixin' to get hot. Or it might be when boys take off into the woods in late afternoon and don't come in until darkness — or a growling belly — bids them home. For others, the first inkling might reveal a dumfounded look on a parent's face when her girl tells her there are only 11 more days of school.
Uh, make that 10.
But the ladies of the South know the real indicator of summer is when ordinarily flat hair suddenly takes on a fullness and life the likes of Carmen Miranda's headdress. That's not natural body, my dear, that's 72 percent humidity.
Its advent is signaled when the ultimate instruments of fashion torture — panty hose and tights — are sent into the recesses of any sane woman's dresser.
While this might bode ill for the hosiery industry, it offers validation to what Southern women have known for some time: The day is too long to be squeezed into a nylon casing when it's 92 degrees.
The First Lady has taken some fashion flak this week for her continued bare-legged approach to her daily wardrobe. Almost as much attention has been brought to her hose-free legs as her uber-toned, sleeve-free arms. Mrs. Obama — again, like any sane woman — says she gave up frequent wearing of panty hose years ago.
A few fashion writers have gone so far as to say her casual attire is a bit unseemly. Most of her contemporaries (working women in their 30s and 40s) would say, "Amen."
These are the women who show up at job interviews, constricted in hose, who note right away if the other female employees wear hose or eschew them for breezy comfort. "The leg check," as one job seeker put it.
They also see the financial benefits, in these lean times, of not buying an item that will be ruined after one use…. without faith. It doesn't matter if you buy the expensive department store kind, if you order them from a catalog or if you buy them in bulk from the bargain bin. You're always just one open desk drawer away from a ladder-like chasm up the side of your leg.
Factor those workplace pitfalls in with the sheer inconvenience of pulling the things on, and the ranks of the hose-free will likely follow the First Lady's lead and break the ties that bind our legs.
Not that summer hosiery will go quietly into the good night. It's had a long, regimented history, going from silk to sturdy wool to nylon in the years leading up to World War II.
Grandmothers tell stories about the 1940s, when nylon was needed for war materials and stockings were as scarce as hen's teeth. Women put makeup on their legs and became artists at drawing a fine, straight line up the backs of their legs to create the illusion of seamed stockings.
In the 1960s, when the one-piece torture devices we now know came along, women thought they were revolutionary.
Now, it seems, another revolution could be at hand.