Where once there were white T-shirts, now there are bodies - but the no-nonsense one-piece is not without flaws

BODIES, the popular one-pieces that seem to owe something to the T-shirt but a good deal more to the Babygro, have come a long way since their invention in the 1920s. Unleashed afresh upon the world by designer Donna Karan in the 1980s, as a no-nonsense style of underwear for career women in a hurry, they have taken over the high street. Bodies are everywhere. New synthetic fibres such as Supplex, which avoid the bagging and sagging of earlier garments while solving the problem of VPL (visible panty line), partly explain their popularity. A wider choice of lengths and fits, plus the convenience factor of a one-piece done up with simple poppers, add to their appeal. Bodies are also versatile; they can be worn as underwear, as sportswear, or as a T-shirt.

Taking the body at its most basic - the simple, cream, short-sleeved version found in high-street stores and supermarkets everywhere - what is there to choose between the brands? Do differences in the fabric, cut and manufacture make one a better buy than another?

We asked a panel of testers of varying heights and shapes to put six bodies, superficially similar-looking, to the test. Though the panellists' views were sometimes simply a matter of taste - such as whether they liked a particular shade of cream - some of the bodies were voted much more stylish, comfortable and good value than others. One of our testers, Rebecca Lowthorpe, a writer for Draper's Record, the magazine for insiders in the fashion industry, criticised the workmanship of all the bodies. Manufacturers tend to spend more on expensive fabrics, such as Lycra, and skimp on details and workmanship, she said.


Melanie Rickey, fashion assistant, The Independent; Lu David, charity fundraiser; Liz Woods, researcher; Rebecca Lowthorpe, writer, Draper's Record.


The panel gave the bodies marks for their comfort and fit, their quality of workmanship and materials, how attractive each of the garments looked, and value for money.


Viscose/Lycra, pounds 16.99

This body was made out of a very flimsy, silky fabric. The testers did not rate its comfort, quality or style very highly. Some of them were also worried about its transparency. "You could see everything through it," said Lu David, "including my tattoo." Melanie Rickey commented: "A bra is essential underneath, but would look a bit silly. It would look wrong on someone with a bust sized 34B or over, because of the very high neckline." In fact, this was the least favourite body of Lu David, who at size 14-16 was our most curvaceous tester. But where this body did score highly was for its easy-to-use fastenings on the gusset - only two, rather than three poppers, and large ones at that. Partly because of the gusset, this was Rebecca Lowthorpe's top choice: "The body looks great on, and the quality of manufacturing isn't bad. The feel is good. At pounds 16.99, it's worth every penny."


Viscose/Polyester/Elastane, pounds 16.99

This body was given only average ratings by the panel. Lu David in particular hated the colour, which was more of a beigey oatmeal than a cream. "Revolting," she said, "makes it look cheap." There were some other reservations. A couple of the testers had problems getting the three-popper fastening to pop, for instance. But Liz Woods approved of the "nice, simple style" of this body. Rebecca Lowthorpe also liked it, declaring the fabric "nice and sporty, with lots of stretch". Melanie Rickey found it a bit see-through, but otherwise she had few complaints. "The cream colour is OK," she said, "and it fits well around the shoulders and underarm. This body would best suit skirts or loose trousers."


Supplex nylon/Lycra, pounds 16

This body was given high marks for comfort and quality. Most of the panel also rated the style highly, despite disliking the unusual square neck. The fabric, a mixture of Supplex nylon and Lycra, has a thick, substantial feel to it, consistent with the company's good quality image; this garment certainly felt as if it wouldn't disintegrate after a few washes. Melanie Rickey especially loved the fabric: "Excellent - soft and supple to wear," she said. Rebecca Lowthorpe disagreed; though the dense material would probably have a firming effect on unsightly bulges, she thought it could make the wearer a bit sweaty. A plus point was the choice of two fastenings on the gusset (like on an adjustable bra strap) to make the body longer or shorter. "As someone with a long body, this was an added boon," said Melanie Rickey.


Cotton/Lycra, pounds 16.99

This simple body from Next was the panel's overall favourite. It is a casual, sporty garment rather than something to slink around in during a night out on the town. "A great one for slobbing around in with jeans," commented Melanie Rickey. It also scored especially well on comfort and fit. Its generous cut pleased Lu David in particular: "A very comfy big girl's fit on the bottom. There was a nice feel to the material, and at a good price. But this is very boring-looking, office-girly stuff. The Marks & Spencer body looks much more sexy." Rebecca Lowthorpe was also very positive: "Looks great, and comfort is very good," she commented. The fabric was excellent quality, she said - but as with all the other bodies tested, the standard of workmanship was not up to scratch.


Tactel/Lycra, pounds 19.99

The most expensive body, this was not rated as highly as either the Next or Marks &Spencer ones, but it was still a popular choice. The cut was generous: "There was room to move, and it didn't feel too restricting," said Liz Woods, "but it was a pity about the rather unattractive shiny material." Other panellists liked the smooth, slightly shiny, ribbed fabric. Rebecca Lowthorpe described this body as "absolutely gorgeous", and said the fabric was "luscious". Melanie Rickey found it "slinky to wear because of the Tactel [a type of nylon] content. The ribbed effect was nice, as was the high neckline, which doesn't emphasise my rather less than ample bosom." Lu David gave a rather less glowing report. She said this body looked like "an oversized Babygro" on the hanger, but added that it fitted well. "The feel of the material was unpleasant. I thought it looked good, but friends said it looked cheap."


Cotton/Lycra, pounds 13

It seemed as if British Home Stores might have cut corners with a giant pair of shears in order to put this body on sale at such a rock-bottom price. The panel thought it was the least well-made and noticed quite a few design faults, particularly in the gusset: "The leg and gusset are piped with silky elastic," said Lu David, "which causes the overlap of the gusset to curl up - irritating and uncomfortable. The sleeves are a bit baggy, too." Melanie Rickey also had problems with it: "Tends to go G-string-like at the back. The gusset is bulky, so this body doesn't look good with trousers." On the other hand, Lu David praised the buttermilk shade, the ribbed style and the comfortable feel. Like the M& S body, this one has adjustable poppers, and only two of them - a good point, according to Liz Woods. "The fewer the poppers," she remarked, "the less faffing about in the loo."


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