The Jumpsuit Edition
Every superhero has an origin story and you may think you know where this one starts but it goes even further back than you might have appreciated.
This season’s Overall/Boiler-suit trend for the era-defying jumpsuit brings us closest to its humble beginnings. In fact, the name “jumpsuit” is very literal, it began as an outfit for parachuters and skydivers. The suit’s specific purpose was for jumping from planes. Pilots and professional drivers also adopted this garment for their own lines of work, and it became synonymous not only with work but extremely dangerous work and adventurous past-times. It was a groundbreaking time for women who participated in such pursuits.
Perhaps apt for the centenary that’s in it, with Clifden celebrating the landing of Alcock and Brown in 1919. This was also the year that the ‘jumpsuit’ was stylised by the Italian artist Thayat. His original intention was for the garment to be a true every day “basic” piece, something simple that would be easy to make and wear. The simple cotton look, dubbed the TuTa, was created as an anti-bourgeois statement, with the intended customer being the working class. This ultimately backfired- as his preferred customer base showed little interest in the TuTa. To add insult to injury, it became popular with Florentine upper-class society as a highly fashionable look, the exact opposite of everything Thayat had hoped to accomplish with his creation. Something similar was attempted in the ’20s by the artist couple Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. Their version of the jumpsuit being called the ‘Varst’ but early Soviet Russia wasn’t exactly a trendsetting society so it failed to get off the ground so to speak!
The Varst (Rodchenko modelling) and Tuta respectively (I like a jumpsuit that can double up as a briefcase!)
All in one ‘beach pyjamas’ first surfaced in 1927, worn over swim suits by the smart set at the Riviera and then became a common sight throughout the 30s. Before the bikini, fashionable ladies donned “beach pyjamas” all along the world’s most stylish coastal towns. The swishy palazzo-like pants and jumpsuit styles shocked the public in the interwar years.
Elsa Schiaparelli created the first high-fashion jumpsuit at the end of the 1930’s. She created a collection inspired by the coming war which included a women’s jumpsuit cut from green silk, featuring large front pockets. While these were met with positive reactions, luxury jumpsuits were put on hold as the war began.
However, cotton overalls or coveralls began being cut for and worn by women during the 1940’s as they stepped up to work in place of the men fighting overseas.
Vera Maxwell, a pioneer of American sportswear, designed a jumpsuit worn by millions of ‘riveting Rosies’ (the nickname given to American women working in factories during World War II). The ‘You Can Do It!’ posters of Rosie the Riveter in her one-piece and polka dot headband have become an iconic cultural reference and symbol of empowered women. The jumpsuit was primarily an American phenomenon, the ‘Land Girls’ of Britain preferring to sport dungarees.
As you might expect, the ‘jumpsuit’ took something of an hiatus post war when women were pushed back out of the manual work place. The 50s saw a return to a more ‘feminine’ style sensibility where again skirts and dresses became the norm.
(Elsa Schiaparelli design)
But in the late 60’s the jumpsuit made a dramatic reappearance and again it was Elsa Schiaparelli who brought it back to the fore, with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Paco Rabanne following in her wake.
Here's a stunning picture of the famous 60's model Jean Shrimpton as photographed by David Bailey, in a completely fantastic jumpsuit that looks like it could have come from a Bond film.
Even Elvis was wearing a jumpsuit, and continued to wear them through the 70’s. It has been estimated he wore 100 different ones from 1969 to 1971 alone! Influencing a myriad of other celebrities like Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.
During the Disco era of the 70’s the jumpsuit was ubiquitous, with both genders getting in on the act. Jumpsuits were everywhere in the 70’s in day wear, from utilitarian safari looks to summery tropicana to evening lame, wide leg palazzo or flare, halterneck, off the shoulder, you name it there was a jumpsuit to cover every occasion.
I even remember my mom, for a friends wedding, making my sister and I, burnt orange boiler suits with plaid contrast cuffs and panels, we were the bees knees and basically outshone the bridesmaids (we were 5&6).
The 80’s version revisited it’s early roots with a more masculine form, punctuated by the wide shoulder. The cuts of power suits and the colors, fabrics, and embellishments of party dresses were often all mixed together on 80’s jumpsuits- these were definite statement outfits. The high street fabrics were mostly synthetic nylons and polyester, with velour, spandex and lycra really starting to make an impact on fashion. Though natural cotton and silk were also in the market.
Even in the short time frame of a decade I still managed to revisit the trend again, this time for my brother’s Holy Communion.
Through the 90’s and Noughties, the jumpsuit continued to be a high end piece, but was seen rarely on celebrities and even more rarely on the high street.
In recent years it has made a strong come back to become more of a fashion staple than a statement and has diversified.
But don’t be tempted to confuse your ‘jumpsuit’ with your ‘playsuit’ or even your ‘romper! The jumpsuit is usually long sleeves-long pants, a playsuit is long sleeves-short pants, and a romper is *maybe* short sleeves/straps-short pants. The playsuit / romper can be interchangeable though. The romper has it's own history dating back again to the 20 with it's hay day in the 50's but that's a different blog!
Here at Ohh! By Gum the jumpsuit has become a regular across the seasons and across many of our stocked brands for the past couple of years. Armedangels and Noa Noa in particular provide us with an excellent variety of jumpsuits which can become the work horse of your wardrobe. Taking you from Spring through Summer and back out into Autumn again, there's a versatility and comfort in the jumpsuit which is hard to match. Particularly when it is made with silken fabrics such as sustainable wood pulp viscose or 100% organic cotton.
However you choose to wear yours, as a multi-functioning holiday item, a casual day look, an all in one work wear piece or a grand occasion, the jumpsuit will go on and on crossing all functions, era's and trends for a long time to come.