Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Geneaology of the Jumpsuit

The jumpsuit is a particularly fascinating garment because it is most often worn for function instead of fashion. It can even mean the difference between life and death for people such as astronauts.

The "jumpsuit" was initially just a one-piece outfit that skydivers and parachuters wore, hence the "jump," but now it has evolved into a fashion statement more or less, and is worn by people in many walks of life and professions.

I had to include more than the required five photos in this post about jumpsuits because they have such an interesting history of functionality for people from babies to daredevils.


The Union Suit originated in 1868, but lost popularity due to the more functional two-piece long johns. Traditionally red flannel, the suit had a button-up flap called a "drop-seat" or "access hatch" in the back so the wearer could use the restroom without removing the top of the suit.


As seen in this photo from 1910, men's swimwear used to be jumpsuits of sorts.



Jumpsuits were popular attire for pilots such as Charles A. Lindbergh because they provide insulation at high altitudes. In May 1927, at age 25, Lindbergh became instantaneously world famous as he made the first non-stop, solo flight across the Atlantic in the single-seat, single-engine plane called Spirit of St. Louis (which I love because St. Louis is my hometown).



As shown in this photo, blue collar laborers favor jumpsuits because of their practicality and protection. Here, a structural builder tightens bolts in order to construct the Empire State Building in 1930.



This is a pattern for a jumpsuit, circa the late 1950s. These garments adhere to the popular dress style of the decade, except with pants instead of a skirt attached to the top.



Although the exact date is uncertain, the development of the wetsuit is thought to have occurred in 1951. It insulates the body and allows people to enter otherwise unbearably cold water. Also, it protects athletes during water activities such as scuba diving and surfing.


The spacesuit is essential gear for astronauts such as Buzz Aldrin, pictured here during the Apollo 11 moonwalk in 1969. Perhaps the most high-tech jumpsuit of all, the spacesuit has to meet certain specifications and perform important functions. The spacesuit is constructed with considerations of pressure, radiation, mobility, decompression sickness, oxygen, temperature, and even bodily fluid management, to name a few.



The bejeweled jumpsuit became a trademark of Elvis Presley's live performances in the 1970s. Although the look was iconic, it was also mocked as people said it made Elvis look like a drag queen. As the leader of the team that designed the infamous jumpsuits, Bill Belew played a large part in shaping Elvis' image.

"You could be daring as a designer and put anything on Elvis and he could make it work. And the simplest outfits that didn't seem particularly remarkable on the rack transformed into something spectacular when Elvis put them on. He was that beautiful and powerful a presence. As a wardrobe designer Bob Mackie had a perfect muse and a perfect canvas in Cher. I got to have that in Elvis." - Bill Belew



Similar to Elvis' jumpsuits, motorcycle daredevil Evil Knievel's jumpsuits in the 1970s were often white and adorned with capes. Knievel's jumpsuits were more for show than for protection.



This "All-Purpose Jumpsuit" from the J.C. Penny catalog in 1977 was marketed as a garment that was "equally appropriate for playing golf or simply relaxing around the house." The company was calling attention to the fact that jumpsuits can be comfortable and versatile. In modern day, most men would never wear this during either one of those activities!



The 1980s are mocked for their fluorescent, puffy fashion, including the snowsuit. Jumpsuits (which are still worn by skiers today, although in less shocking colors) are popular in snow-related sports because of their warmth and protection from the snow and ice.


Jumpsuits are commonly worn by ice skaters because they are sleek and therefore allow fast movement and no loose fabric to get in the way.

Figure skaters in the 1970s

Speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno won Olympic medals in 2002.



At the 2006 MTV Video Awards, Li'l Kim, who is known for her outrageous attire, wore an outfit that resembled a prison jumpsuit. She was mocking the fact that she had been released from jail recently.

Actual modern-day prison uniforms are bright orange jumpsuits because they are comfortable, they can accomodate a large variety of body shapes, and they distinguish escaped convicts from the average civilian.



Unlike Knievel's jumpsuits, motocross racers today wear jumpsuits mainly for protection while crashing. Although these suits favor function over form, racers can still choose colors and designs that show their personal styles. In this photo from 2007 is a girl who competes in National Motocross. She shows her pride in the fact that she is a female in a male-dominated sport by wearing a jumpsuit in the traditionally female color pink.



Jumpin' Jammerz is the self-proclaimed world famous company that is leading the way in adult footed sleepwear.

The children's equivalent


Currently, popular singers and performers like to wear jumpsuits onstage because they are considered costumey.

Lady Gaga performed on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in May 2009.

Katy Perry



"The Clown" by Renoir, 1909

Modern-day Clowns

Clowns are frequently dressed in jumpsuits because they are fun and silly, especially when oversize and brightly colored in a busy pattern.



While the jumpsuit has never been an everyday garment for adults, it has always been a practical choice for babies because it is simpler than a regular two-piece outfit to put on, launder, and remove.

I found this shapshot in my grandma's photo album of an adorable little boy wearing a onesie, circa early 1970s.



Fall 2009 L'Wren Scott RTW

Fall 2009 Givenchy Couture

Fall 2009 Gaultier Couture

Fall 2009 Gaultier Couture

Fall 2009 Haider Ackermann RTW

Fall 2009 Halston RTW

Fall 2009 Diesel Black Gold RTW

Lanvin Resort 2010

These are examples of the jumpsuits that are designed for decoration instead of utility. All of these fashionable jumpsuits are very different from each other, and also they are unlike any of the aforementioned functional jumpsuits.

Although the jumpsuit has made recurring appearances in popular fashion trends since the 1960s, it has never been a common garment for everyday wear. Perhaps this is because the jumpsuit is only flattering on very thin people. As shown, the jumpsuit's long lines appear beautiful on lanky runway models. The jumpsuit had a presence in the 1980s and has made a slight comeback on the runways today.



Even though the jumpsuit has never become a staple fashion item, there is little chance of its disappearance since it serves vital functions in many professions, as discussed above. In fact, some people envision a future full of jumpsuits, as illustrated in movies and TVs shows that portray future civilizations.

Catwoman from "Batman"

"Power Rangers", a TV show from 1993-1996

"Star Trek", a TV series from 1966-2005

Perhaps we envision future people all in jumpsuits because it is one garment that has never become an everyday staple. Since we know fashion is always evolving, it is safe to assume that jumpsuits will be the norm at some point in the future.

I love jumpsuits.

No comments:

Post a Comment