Long before Beyoncé championed fashion bodysuits as the ultimate concert costume (she’s worn designs by everyone from DSquared2 to David Koma while on tour), the alternative leotard was an altogether more demure affair: in fact, the bodysuit trend started decades before Queen Bey was even born.
What the French term a maillot does have, however, is origins in performance wear. It’s said to have been pioneered by 19th-century Parisian acrobat Jules Léotard, who we can credit for creating both the bodysuit and the art of trapeze. Fast forward to the 21st century and you don’t have to be capable of defying gravity to master the bodysuits trend, thanks to a plethora of styles to suit almost all situations.
Don’t think wearing bodysuits could possibly be as flexible as their stretch fabric might suggest? Allow us to convince you otherwise.
The 80s essential
We have Donna Karan to thank for bringing fashion bodysuits into the mainstream. She was the first luxury designer to show the one-piece on the catwalk in 1985, in what was her debut own-name collection after 11 years working at Anne Klein. In fact, bodysuits were the unlikely foundation of the ground-breaking Seven Easy Pieces concept, Donna Karan’s innovative version of the staples every woman should have hanging in their wardrobes.
Surprised to discover the bodysuit lauded as a high-end fashion label’s investment piece? Donna Karan explains: “It started out because I was a yogi. I’d wear a bodysuit every day, and then take the bodysuit and just put on a jersey wrap and tie it,” the designer told American Vogue in a June 2016 interview. The Seven Easy Pieces fashionable bodysuits were black and available in off-the-shoulder, high-neck, T-shirt style and long-sleeve turtleneck designs, all styled with sheer black stockings for Donna Karan’s debut show.
These highly wearable 80s versions of the bodysuit were a far cry from the risqué styles that preceded it: Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunnies cemented the satin bodysuit in the Western world’s psyche as early as the 1950s, complete with fluffy bunny ears and questionable living arrangements. Today’s bodysuit is a hybrid of both the wearable and the sensual - just look to the long-sleeve, black spandex style from Alexander Wang. With lace-up detailing that plunges from breast bone to belly button, this bodysuit bares just the right amount of skin. Pair with denim, as Lily Aldridge does, and even slouchy jeans become sexy.
The new basics
The streamlined silhouette that only wearing a bodysuit can afford has found a loyal following in today’s fashion plates. Kendall Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid and, of course, Lily Aldridge are all firm fans; the model physique lends itself well to the style, unsurprisingly.
But unlike other undergarments which masquerade as clothing, the bodysuit trend has staying power because it offers a truly elegant alternative to the other items hanging in your wardrobe. Where T-shirts can create an unflattering shape when tucked into a high-waisted skirt (and don’t even try to scrunch them into your high-waisted jeans), the bodysuit stays smooth and sleek. It even moonlights as a solution to making your high-fashion piece office appropriate: have a sheer Lanvin pussy-bow blouse you’re keen to wear to work? A black or beige bodysuit underneath will make it happen.
As Gigi et al illustrate, you can dress a fashionable bodysuit up or down. Maison Margiela specialises in high-quality basic options — in black or beige and a variety of necklines and sleeve lengths — that can sub in for your faithful tees in an instant. David Koma and Balmain have your evening outfits covered, with elevated designs embellished with lace and lustrous metal details. Kendall Jenner wore her ebony off-the-shoulder David Koma bodysuit with an asymmetrical, embellished black wool skirt by the house for her Estee Edit by Estee Lauder collaboration launch in New York. Teamed with pointy-toed black pumps, hair scraped back into a high ponytail and a matte orange lip, the effect was distinctly elegant, minus any 80s gym vibes.
Back at the barre
Just like ballet flats, chignons and leg warmers before them, the bodysuit has made the leap (or should that be grand jeté?) from dance class to closet. Given that, in essence, the fashionable bodysuit is a sliver of spandex with a button-up crotch, its swift ascent may well raise certain eyebrows, but when placed in the context of the ever-growing popularity of athleisure and the universal appeal of all things ballet-related, it makes a lot of sense.
Wearing a bodysuit can bring out your athletic or elegant side, or both, because it can be styled to look flirty as much as Beyoncé-level fierce. Team yours with Stella McCartney sport-luxe track pants or beneath a bomber jacket (try 3.1 Phillip Lim) to reference the bodysuit’s high-performance origins.
With an army of style icons wearing fashion bodysuits and label after label innovating diverse and creative ways to work the trend, it's only a matter of time before bodysuits make their way into your wardrobe.