Leotard Top

AKA: bodysuit

How to say it:  leeuh-tahrd

Traditional Features: 

leotard top


  • fitted top
  • long tails that snap together between the legs to create a leotard-like garment
  • will often have a shirt or blouse style on top with a basic underwear shape on the bottom to decrease bulk
  • can be any style, but tend to be designs that are obviously meant for streetwear and would not be suited to the more traditional uses of a leotard (e.g. dancing, gymnastics, exercise)
  • generally made of a knit or stretch fabric


…of the style: The leotard was made famous by the French aerial gymnast Jules Léotard in the 19th century, although it wasn’t actually called leotard until 1886 which was 16 years after the gymnasts death. The one-piece garment was worn mainly by circus performers, acrobats and gymnasts through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, when it began to influence bathing suit styles (one-piece bathing suits that hail from the leotard are still being worn today).

Throughout the early decades of the 20th century the leotard remained in the realm of performers and acrobats and were almost always black, worn with thick, black tights. The style began to creep into exercise clothing and street wear in the 1950s, helped along by Claire McCardell (known as the ‘anti-Dior’ for her comfortable American Look that was the opposite of European styles of the time) who promoted sportswear as everyday wear and included the leotard in her collections.

By the 1970s the leotard was a popular work-out option, available in a variety of colours; it made the jump to casual wear in the late 1970s/early 80s thanks to the Disco and dancewear trends, and celebrities like Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton John who heavily influenced the fashion of the time.

In 1985 designer Donna Karan launched her label with the ‘Seven Easy Pieces Collection’, which featured the leotard redesigned with snaps between the legs (the main difference between a leotard and a bodysuit) – this new style was called a bodysuit and was meant to be worn solely as daywear. Azzedine Alia also featured bodysuits in his collections in the 80s, thus the popularity of the style grew and held right through to the mid 90s, during which time it was particularly fashionable under jeans.

The style fell out of favour towards the turn of the last century, but has come back into vogue in the last couple of years thanks to the Mad Men trend (featuring high-waisted bottoms and tucked-in tops, for which the leotard top is perfect) and the 80s and 90s style revivals.

The availability of the leotard top fluctuates on the modern fashion marketplace depending on trends, but the style has remained popular among women who like to achieve (and keep) a professionally tucked-in look without excess bunching of fabric at the waistline, and because of this the style never really disappears.

…of the name: The style is named for the French aerial acrobat Jules Léotard who popularised the leotard style that started it all in the 19th century.

For more info on Leotards, Bodysuits and Leotard tops try Wikipedia, Bradamat, Madalynne or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • Designer Claire McCardell is also famed for popularising ballet flats in New York City while dealing with leather shortages during WWII.

21st Century Leotard Tops

In the 21st century there are surprisingly more leotard tops available that one would think. Styles range from a fitted shirt that will always be perfectly tucked, to soft t-shit shapes and the more traditionally tight-fitted, body-con shape with a variety of necklines. The beauty of the style is that the only person who knows that they are wearing a leotard is the wearer.

river island Vionnet

River Island, Vionnet

Donna Karan Asos

Donna Karan, ASOS


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