One Easy Piece: Jumpsuits (Blech!) Return

Fashion continues to ransack the 80’s—a sartorial decade that, even while it was happening, struck most as a particularly bad idea—so it was perhaps inevitable that jumpsuits were next up for a revival. And sure enough, they were everywhere this Fashion Week, from Diesel to Preen to Mara Hoffman. One need only watch The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” video—YouTube it now, really—to be very, very afraid.

Two decades back, jumpsuits—those one-piece outfits with full-length legs—tended to be snug and, preferably, neon, though Steven Tyler and Diana Ross worked them with stripes, and Madonna went for cropped, basic black in her “Papa Don’t Preach” video. Of course, the 80’s didn’t invent them—Charlie’s Angels wore them in 1976, and Elvis in 1970, and what of Studio 54’s leisure suits? They, too, were part of the evolution. The 80’s, though, packaged the jumpsuit in teal and tangerine and rolled it out for the mass market, where many of us, or at least those of us currently over 30, purchased it at Units or Multiples (erstwhile beloved grandparents of American Apparel). We’ve spent the past 20 years trying to forget about our bad choices, and about T-shirt clips and Pop Swatches, too. But much to our shock and chagrin, the jumpsuit is back, attempting to seduce us again with its instant-outfit casualness, its forward-thinking utility, its ubiquity on lithe celebrity frames. Was nothing at all learned from Devo’s “Whip It” video?

The good news is that today’s jumpsuits, with some exceptions, are largely reinventions of the 80’s versions, not copies. So instead of Diane von Furstenberg’s loud, ankle-length red numbers, you have Karen Zambos’ V-neck black jumpsuit, whose wide legs, drooping neckline and general excess of fabric—not to mention the fat belt it’s supposed to be worn with—has more in common with other modern-day offerings at Searle than with Jane Fonda’s early exercise videos. Pop into American Apparel, though, and you’ll see that the younger set, apparently too young to have learned from Kathy Smith’s Fat-Burning Workout tape, is unafraid of the full-on fuchsia unitard. A young sales clerk at the American Apparel store on Broadway and Washington Place recently explained that often, women buy such pieces for the purpose of layering—i.e., to throw a dress on over them. He added that he himself prefers the short, looser “pocket romper” jumpsuits, also from the women’s section, which he buys in size large. .

“I’ve been making them and wearing them for a long time, but this summer, people really went nuts for them,” said designer Mara Hoffman, whose jumpsuits range from basic black to genie-shaped green, and have been seen on Chloë Sevigny. “If it’s done right, it’s flattering. It’s harder on a really long torso. It emphasizes the length of your torso instead of breaking it up like separates would do.” Backstage at her show last week at the SoHo Grand, Ms. Hoffman wore a slinky black strapless jumpsuit that showed off her rockin’ bod (ladies, don’t try this at home). She showed us several of the jumpsuits in her spring 2008 collection, among them a voluminous, silk blue strapless number with a floral print (her collection, she said, had a “birds of paradise in a dangerous garden” motif). Later in the week, British label Preen also put forth a jumpsuit-heavy vision of spring, showing several slouchy, sportier drawstring-waisted versions, which models wore cuffed at the ankles. And at Diesel on Saturday, Demi clutched Ashton in the front row as models in red wigs stalked by in jumpsuits made from sweatshirt material, tight white denim and more: Indeed, they seemed to comprise half the collection.

Beyond the chunky-heeled splendor of the tents, though, real women—while not opposed to the jumpsuit in theory—expressed doubt that the trend was really for them. “I would wear a jumpsuit if I wasn’t so short,” said Erika Martineau, 29, who works in public relations in Manhattan, as she perused the various jumpsuit offerings at LF in East Hampton recently. “It’s a really cute look—casual yet stylish—but you really have to have the right body type. And I don’t have any friends who have that body type.” She paused and considered: “Well, maybe Niki could do it. She’s, like, tall and foreign.” Ms. Martineau’s friend Amanda Ashe, 29, also a public relations executive, interjected, pointing out the hazards of the trend. “It’s kind of like wearing a dress, only you have the risk of camel toe,” she noted, adding, “I would wear a jumpsuit if I was aerobicizing!”

Suzanne Brose, 25, had a more positive take. “I like the ones you wear in daytime to the beach or by the pool or running errands,” she said. “I would wear one if I felt more in shape. It really hugs you.”

One Easy Piece: Jumpsuits (Blech!) Return