Knees, if you please

Showing some skin is practically obligatory in France

Trousers? Bah. The French don’t understand why a woman would ever cover up her gams, much less her ankles. Even Coco Chanel rarely hit the rue in anything but a knee-grazing skirt in her later years. At Cannes, the right amount of skin (or shin) can attract paparazzi or a free glass of Bordeaux, open night club doors and soften the edge of haughty shop girls.

Brigitte Bardot sure knew how to rivet those retinas when she revealed her knees, thighs and panties in 1955. Note to Paris Hilton et al: A little silk underwear goes a long way. Forty years later, Sharon Stone created a stir with a skirt that magically became unbuttoned and revealed a sequined girdle underneath. Note to Sharon: A lot of sequined underwear can go too far afield, though your look was playful and just the right amount of coquette.

Perhaps the easiest type of exposure to emulate is Sophia Loren’s graceful — and fantastically sexy — look on the beach in 1955. Witness the cascade of pleated skirt that she has strategically inched back to show off a glimpse of her bare thigh. Obviously, women who shy away from mini-skirts can play peek-a-boo by nonchalantly sliding a skirt upward. That’s the preferred technique of European women, and Loren is still showing off her knees at age 73.

The key to attempting this ploy abroad is to make sure that your legs are ready for the South of France. First off, get a loofah and act accordingly. (For many of us American femmes, this festival is the first foray into the summer season, and our legs are pale as hearts of palm.) To add color, try Napoleon Perdis’ new self-tanning mousse ($40; napoleonperdis.com) from the Summer Lovers line or cheat and apply a coloring gel like Perfekt’s Body Gel ($58; sephora.com). As Marlene Dietrich once said, “Darling, the legs aren’t so beautiful. I just know what to do with them.” Amen.

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