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    Whether the word ‘jumpsuit’ brings to mind elegant attire for special occasions, evokes the comfort of a soft, light fabric tickling bare feet at the beach, or even sets your pulse throbbing at the mere thought of thrilling activities such as skiing or car races, it is a garment that firmly transcends women’s various backgrounds and instead embraces the uniqueness of each individual. With an array of unique styles, cuts and fits to complement every woman’s taste. For Spring/Summer 2020, every designer created their own version: from Salvatore Ferragamo’s total-leather feel, to the sparkling black attire showcased by Saint Lauren, and the total denim look presented by Brandon Maxwell. This love for the jumpsuit, however, does not end with luxury designers: high street brands have utilised haute couture influences, including jumpsuits in their collections with a range of different styles and colours to choose from. Practical and chic, there are several individual jumpsuit subcategories, creating a huge selection of styles and marking it as the perfect garment for every occasion-wear!

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest
    Whilst the term ‘jumpsuit’ is a relatively recent invention, the history behind the garment is far longer. The invention of the original jumpsuit has never been claimed by anyone, although an old version of the garment is mentioned in 19th Century literature. Since then, the jumpsuit has witnessed countless changes and evolutions, developing into the variety of styles we know today. The idea behind the style was to have a durable garment that would be comfortable for heavy work, and, due to this, the jumpsuit became a cover garment worn by US navy officers during the 19th Century, becoming the ancestor of what we now refer to as ‘dungarees’ – or ‘overalls’, for our more Western neighbours. Whilst living in a post-war world, the idea of the jumpsuit underwent a renovation with the invention of the tuta by the Italian, Thayhat, and of the prozodezhda by the Russian, Aleksandr Rodčenko, from a futuristic and revolutionary anti-fashion viewpoint.

    During the 1930s, the development of the jumpsuit followed two directions in order to pursue two opposite goals: the first followed the original design idea of developing a comfortable and durable garment, ideal for workwear, casual-wear and heavy work; the second one instead aimed the garment specifically at women, creating a new, elegant attire for strong, feminine, sophisticated women. After its development, the first jumpsuit became what we now know as a boiler suit, a garment used in several sports (car race and skiing, for example) and specific careers (mechanics, pilots etc). However, the boiler suit is nowadays not limited to work or sportswear, but is fashionable attire that has had its fair share of exposure in recent years, on the runway – with pilot lookalikes for Longchamp’s SS20 show and the chic mechanic looks illustrated by MCQ – and as street-wear.

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest

    Between the 1940s and 1950s, the development of jumpsuits led to the blossoming of different styles, including playsuits and short dungarees, both of which reached the peak of their success in the 1970s. And it is during this inimitable decade that the jumpsuit became the chosen attire for disco stars, including Elvis Presley in his famous white onesie, David Bowie in his metallic striped jumpsuit, and Mick Jagger sporting a host of colourful ones – unique attire accompanying bare chests and wide, flared legs.

    Let’s delve into the details of each style and explore the history of this powerful fashion attire known as the jumpsuit!

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest


    The jumpsuit’s history begins with dungarees, or overalls for the more Western among us. While the exact origin of dungarees is uncertain, it is nonetheless possible to trace its murky history back to the 18th Century, when dungarees were a common garment worn by slaves. Fast-forward a century, and the dungaree had made its way to the military, where they became the heavy-duty utility dress worn in the US navy. Even though the dungarees were not part of the navy uniform – and, because of that, were officially forbidden to appear on the ship’s deck – the navy’s members working below-deck wore dungarees as a cover garment to protect their own clothes. The dungaree soon spread to civilian use and, at the end of the century, the mass-production of Levi’s brought dungarees into most houses.

    The slogan was ‘Never Rip, Never Tear’ to highlight the durability and resistance of the garment, which was made of denim fabric. Even though modern-day dungarees come in a wide variety of colours and fabrics, blue denim is still the main fabric in use. The name itself, ‘dungaree’, is the result of an ancient tradition, according to which, each exported fabric took the name of the city in which it was produced: this particular type of denim was originally made in Dungri, a city in India, in the 17th Century. During the Great War, dungarees were adopted as working dress for the American sailors, and were often the chosen attire for labour-based work, such as farming, mining, and machinery. The style was suitable for heavy works as it was more comfortable to work in and provided several storage areas with its wide pockets on both the front and side of the legs. Even though dungarees were not readily designed for women, during the war – whilst men were on the front lines and women started to replace them in the fields and factories – women turned their heads to male garments, as dresses and skirts were unsuitable for the jobs available. The taboo of women working laborious jobs, along with the stigma of women wearing garments that could be found only in the men’s section of a shop, required a general readjustment of attitude during the First World War – but women didn’t just stop wearing dungarees once the war was over. Instead, towards the end of the 1930s, they had become a fashion staple for the more daring, controversial women in society. Although the idea of women wearing dungarees for fashion instead of necessity remained shocking to some, by 1937, dungarees were being advertised as acceptable casualwear for women at home or on vacation, and during outdoor activities such as sport. After World War II, the dungaree became iconic attire for farmers – a notion that was helped along by Hollywood cinema, where American cowboys wore denim dungarees and thus pushed the style to the forefront of fashion, coining the name ‘Hollywood overalls’. During the 1960s, dungarees became everyday attire and have dropped in-and-out of fashion ever since. Modern styles range from glam to grunge, with fashionistas choosing to pair the iconic clothing with heels and sparkles or a t-shirt and trainers – a truly versatile outfit base!


    Following the use of dungarees, the jumpsuit was originally used by workers as a cover garment to protect their own clothes and as a safety garment for heavy works. The jumpsuit was an attire that transcended the work-scene, instead becoming ‘in vogue’ for everyday life. This can be attributed to Ernesto Michahelles, an Italian artist, who coined for himself the palindrome name of Thayaht. In 1920, Thayaht and his brother, RAM, designed a unisex garment in a ‘T’ shape that resembled a t-shirt extended in all directions, to cover the arms and legs. The style was minimalistic and practical, fitting the very idea of revolutionary: it was the anti-fashion, the representation of a movement against over-consumption and the overt display of wealth.
    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest

    Thayaht’s tuta needs to be analysed from a post-war perspective, with the looming economic crisis and the subsequent rejection of traditional glamour. Due to the high cost of post-war clothing, most Italians were left without the option of abandoning their old clothes in favour of new ones. Thayaht wished to add to everybody’s wardrobe a unique garment, suitable for both work and casual occasions. In doing so, he published the pattern of his jumpsuit in the Florentine newspaper, La Nazione, along with the instructions of how to reproduce it at home. This move marked the first occasion in which a pattern was sold instead of the final product. The idea behind it was to create a universal garment and, with it, an ‘industrial revolution’ of fashion, to make the masses feel well-dressed. The idea of comfort offered by the jumpsuit was so deeply ingrained into Italian minds that the word ‘tuta’ became, in the Italian language, associated with any comfortable garment, from the jumpsuit to tracksuits! Even though Thayaht’s ideal consumers were members of the working class, the whole of Florentine high society ordered the tuta during the summer of 1920. In 1922, another artist – the Russian Aleksandr Rodčenko – invented his prozodezhda, another ancestor of the jumpsuit. In spite of the fact that the jumpsuit was already in use among workers from the 19th century, and was a popular garment within the artistic world as unconventional attire (Picasso and Itten al Bauhaus, to name just two, usually wore a one-piece garment when working), Thayaht and Rodčenko’s ideas were revolutionary when contrasted with the cultural and artistic context of the time. The aim was to develop a timeless garment and prevent the evolution of fashion driven by the continuum of change and consumption. With the perfect cut, which could fit anybody, the two artists wished to bring the utility of the jumpsuit into the everyday life of the masses. Despite the success of the jumpsuit as an everyday garment, the idea of ‘one-for-all’ and utility was soon abandoned and, during the 1930s, the jumpsuit underwent considerable changes. The Italian designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, developed an elegant jumpsuit targeted specifically at women, creating the first high-fashion jumpsuit. During the 1960s and 1970s, the jumpsuit made its appearance in the collection of several designers and icons including Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis and Audrey Hepburn were often spotted sporting beautiful, elegant jumpsuits. Around this time, the movement for female emancipation was expanding its representation and the jumpsuit offered the freedom of the trouser, combined with the flowing resemblance of a dress. The jumpsuit was turned into a statement fashion piece, gaining popularity until becoming a legitimate wedding dress choice, with many women deciding to say ‘I do’ in chic, fashion-forward jumpsuits. The key is to find your own style!

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest


    The boiler suit – known as a coverall to some – is a loose-fitting, one-piece garment that covers the whole body and is still popular even now, despite the short sleeved and legged versions available nowadays. The suit is usually fastened with either buttons, a zip, Velcro, or a snap fastener in the middle of the chest. Due to its practicality, it was adopted by manual workers and it is often the uniform for particular activities and sports. Mechanics and drivers, for instance, adopted the boiler suit style to prevent oil and grime from staining their clothes, and as a more suitable protection against flames and impacts. Aviation is also a field that made the boiler suit an iconic attire, renaming it the ‘flight suit’.

    At the beginning of the 20th Century, pilots were in need of warm clothes due to the cockpit of their planes being open and unheated. Pilots’ flight experience changed in 1917 when an Australian aviator, Sydney Cotton, developed the revolutionary ‘SidCot’ suit – an ancestor of the modern boiler suit – to keep aviators warm in the air. During World War II, the boiler suit was given the name of ‘siren suit’, denoting its purpose as purely war based. The loose-fit cut, the choice of thick fabric and the presence of deep, wide pockets, made the boiler suit the perfect garment for comfort and protection during high-risk, heavy works. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, boiler suits have been in use among manual labourers as protection against burns and hazards, and have made their way to us today where they remain a protective and comfortable garment for several sports and works, but emerged also a fashion statement. In fact, whilst the boiler suit secured its role as the most suitable garment for extreme weather conditions and specific activities, the original style was diversified with a slew of variations that developed it into a wardrobe staple. Different cuts and fits transformed the boiler suit into a suitable garment for different tastes and figures, and various colours and fabrics made it perfect for every season and dress-style.


    Whilst some attributed the invention of the boiler suit to British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, he actually mimicked the style of boiler suits used by coal workers during the Victorian era. Churchill invented, instead, a new style called the ‘siren suit’, a redesign of the boiler suit that was tailored for him by his shirt-maker, Turnbull & Asser. The siren suit became a popular garment during War World II, with its only use being to protect people during air raids and when running to the shelters. Churchill’s suit was a cover garment of easy ‘wearability’ and its purpose was to keep the wearer warm and modest during air raids, whilst also lending a shade of equality and respectability to all those in the shelters who’d been forced out of their homes, possibly in the middle of the night.
    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest

    The garment’s name was derived from the alarm siren that alerted residents to go to nearby shelters. It was practical as it could be worn over day or nightclothes, depending on the time of the alarm, advising people to seek air-raid shelters. In contrast, with the siren suit’s de facto use, the advertisements of the time were tailored towards women and children only, and contained no hints of the suit’s purpose regarding the war. The advertisement instead referred to the siren suits as a fashionable garment for women, and a comfort garment for children. The gap between the use of the siren suit and its advertisement sheds an interesting light on its popularisation, which appeared as a normalisation of the war itself, and perhaps also as an attempt to remove the focus from the danger of the war in order to assuage the fears and concerns of women and children at the time, who were deemed ‘weak’ in the eyes of society. The use of the siren suit ended with the war, and it relinquished its place in fashion for the boiler suit’s return.

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Jumpsuits - an Iconic Attire: From the Runway to Your Wardrobe'.Source of the images: Pinterest


    The playsuit differs from the jumpsuit in that the legs are covered up only to the knees. Originally targeted at small children, one of the earliest advertisements for them dates back to 1904 and describes the garment as essential children’s playwear. It’s only during the 1940s and 1950s that playsuits became popular attire for teens and grown women. It consisted in a one-piece romper, often with decorative buttons adorning the front to give the outfit a nautical look, which was popular at the time; alternatively, the top was made to appear as a shirt and shorts, with a belt tightening up the waist. Bright colours were usually chosen over neutrals, along with patterns such as checks, plaids, florals, and Hawaiian prints – so en vogue at the beginning of the 1950s!

    Another popular playsuit style between the 1940s and 1950s was the ‘bloomer’ fit, which resembled Victorian bloomers: the legs were gathered to create a puffy bottom. Both styles were conceived as sportswear, beachwear, or for sunbathing in the garden, but were often designed alongside a matching overskirt that was longer than the shorts and wrapped around the waist to look like a dress. The skirt allowed women to wear playsuits in public as it resembled a dress, and then take the skirt off to play sports or when at the beach. The playsuit was, in fact, not considered an appropriate garment for public settings, as the shorts were considered ‘too revealing’ for with friends. Luckily, the 1970s brought fresh revolutionary ideas along with female emancipation, and playsuits became acceptable fashion once more and have been in demand ever since.

    The history of the jumpsuit is strongly intertwined with the history of liberty and liberation – especially for women. From a garment originally worn by workmen, to a symbol of rebellion against classism, the jumpsuit has dispelled prejudices and mental restrictions over the last couple of centuries. As an emblem of gender equality within the human race, the jumpsuit is undoubtedly the fashionable touchstone of social justice.

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