The jumpsuit is an iconic piece of fashion that stands out for its unique appearance and sense of being cool (and maybe even a little aloof). The most recent resurgence of the jumpsuit in women’s fashion is seen as a throwback to designs from the 1970s and 1980s. While this homage is certainly present, there is a much longer and more storied history to the one-piece outfit.
Jumpsuits Got Their Name from Literal Jumps
First, let’s take a look at what a jumpsuit is. Put simply, it’s a one-piece outfit with pant legs. It typically has sleeves, but sleeveless versions are common in the modern-day fashionable iterations. The jumpsuit has some close relatives, including the jumper—a one-piece dress that is often worn over a shirt or blouse and is most common for young girls—and the romper, which is a one-piece outfit that has shorts on the bottom instead of pants legs.
The early appearance of jumpsuits was very practical in nature, and their long sleeves and legs were designed with protection in mind. Jumpsuits got their name because they were worn by people (typically men, at the time) jumping out of airplanes with parachutes. They quickly spread as uniforms among other, often male-dominated, dangerous lines of work such as race car drivers and pilots.
The jump from being primarily an article of men’s clothing to one that is mostly associated with women is also rooted in the tough nature of the labor done while wearing such a garment. In the World War II era, women adopted the jumpsuit as both a symbol of their empowerment and capabilities and as a practical item to wear while completing the manual labor necessary for war.
Fashion and Function Merge
Today’s jumpsuits are more fashionable than the often plain versions used as uniforms for dangerous jobs. But their utilitarian influence remains as part of their allure. Today, jumpsuits are often seen as a way to look put together without having to go to great lengths to get ready in the morning. The ease of having a single garment to put on instead of layering together and meticulously matching multiple garments is desirable for its simplicity. Why spend hours picking out the right clothes when you can put on one single piece and be ready for the day?
At the same time, the pants legs make them more versatile than many dresses. As the phrase “wears the pants” denotes, pants are seen as symbols of power, independence, and competence. In 2018, fashion retailer Ann Taylor launched a “pants are power” campaign to highlight how important pants are to women’s independence and fight for equality. Adding them to an otherwise flowing and fashionable look of a feminine pantsuit demonstrates a woman who refuses to be put in a box.
There is another trend that takes this combination of feminine form and powerful function to an even greater height: the bridal pantsuit. Perhaps worn most famously by Solange Knowles, the bridal jumpsuit combines the luxurious fabric and delicate hues of typical bridal wear with the functionality and silhouette of the jumpsuit. In Knowles’ case, choosing to wear a jumpsuit made it easy for her to take a wedding day bike ride.
Overall, the jumpsuit remains a symbol of power and strength, just as its uniform origins demanded of it. Today, though, power and strength are combined with beauty, femininity, and grace to demonstrate that no one has to choose between looking great and being strong. Whether the wearer is on the dance floor, out running errands, under the hood of a car, jumping from a plane, or even walking down the aisle on her wedding day, the jumpsuit is an article of clothing that has seen it all.