'There's a difference between being fashionable and looking attractive. I just don't think one can do 'attractive' in a skin-tight knitted jumpsuit," said a concerned colleague and friend.
I had been dithering over what to wear on an important night out, wavering on the Topshop website between their just-arrived wool all-in-one by Louise Goldin ("a statement piece", so they claim) and a plain black dress with a frilly lace skirt. In the end, I was so anxious at the prospect of not looking attractive that I wore the black dress, and felt distinctly un-statement.
But after my aforementioned colleague had thrown down this sartorial gauntlet, I became obsessed with proving her wrong, with finding that fashion Holy Grail in which "directional" and "attractive" need not necessarily be mutually exclusive concepts. And I was convinced that these two polar opposites could find their equilibrium in the humble jumpsuit.
They've been lurking on catwalks and in stores for a couple of seasons now, and show no signs of fading away. Various incarnations in the autumn collections ranged from slouchy, fine knits at Halston and Stella McCartney, to super-tight body con at Louise Goldin, and to sleek, evening silk at Preen and Missoni. And their presence in spring/summer is not to be sniffed at either: jumpsuits are there in full-length glory, and their shorter cousin, the unfortunately named "playsuit", is also an ubiquitous trend. With a revival now in full swing, it's time to embrace the onesie as a multi-faceted and multi-functional part of your wardrobe.
I wore a jumpsuit earlier this year, some may say incongruously, for a pleasant weekend in the country. It was a grey jersey number, sleeveless, with a hood and elasticated ankles. The more unkind among our gathering likened it to a baby-gro, but there were some others whose minds I changed that day. Of their many plus points, all-in-ones have the simplicity of a dress in that, once it's on, you're ready to go.
I have long lamented the difficulties of matching tops and skirts, and oft sought the elusive T-shirt that is long enough to wear with jeans and not show your derriere when bending over, so it's a relief to discover a comfortable, casual alternative that one can step into and look instantly chic. You don't have to fuss around with tights or worry about flashing your pants when sitting down, but you're working enough of a statement (that word again) look. You also benefit from the warmth and practicality of wearing sensible trousers with pockets, but without either the formality of smart strides or the jogging bottoms danger of casual ones. The grey flannel suit was unique among my extensive back-catalogue of trying too hard to be trendy in that, while wearing it, I felt at once smugly on-trend and refreshingly off-duty.
Having raised all of these points, and more, in defence of the jumpsuit to my sceptical colleagues and friends, I remained convinced that they would all be converts to the cause if they'd only remove their bodysuit blinkers.
So I chose a striking Gareth Pugh knitted all-in-one from his acclaimed autumn/winter collection. This was an all-or-nothing assignment and one of those cutesy, "is it a dress, is it culottes" numbers just wasn't going to cut it. I needed the jumpsuit to end all jumpsuits, and I teamed it with Topshop platforms and a plain black blazer. Jumpsuits are the sum of their accessories: they can be dressed up with heels and chunky jewellery, or made everyday by throwing a jacket or plain knit on top. A helpful colleague zipped me in, and I emerged from our fashion cupboard feeling righteously defiant, although somewhat on display.
My boss discreetly picked up her gauntlet: "Wow, it actually looks quite good."
Jumpsuit: one, Sceptics: nil.
After a few hours, I began to get quite hot in the suit, but put this down to the garment's eminent practicality during cold winter months – it was like a reassuring thermal vest, but all over.
After a while though, I felt a rising sense of panic. "I need a wee," I whimpered. What, after all, are colleagues for but to accompany you to the toilet and unzip not only the back of your jumpsuit, but also the zips that run from the elbows to the wrists?
The general mistrust of the all-in-one seems to stem from their being seen as either outlandish or extreme. Granted, these are two of Gareth Pugh's main selling points, but if a body-stocking such as mine is too much of a leap of fashion faith, you can still pick a baggy all-in-one in a muted colour.
Another fear is that they're just not sexy: the directional/attractive divide. This strikes me as further proof of a widespread male fear of women wearing overalls. Jumpsuits are too "can do" for the pernicious anti-fashion average Joe, so they feel the need to mock. Belt yours at the waist – turn up the legs if you think it's too car mechanic – and it's not so very different from wearing a blouse and jeans. But it's much more hip, obviously.
The reactions I provoked were not as hostile or scornful as the sceptics had predicted, nor were they split along gender lines as you might have thought: sympathetic women who watched me being zipped in and out of the suit in my loo breaks sounded their approval, and even some of the previously doubtful fashion team are now thinking of investing in their own onesie.
I tried to gauge the opinions of some of my colleagues in the newsroom, but they seemed unable to vocalise their thoughts, so overwhelmed were they by the body-stocking's all-in-one prowess. One was rendered incapable of speech, while another felt the need to address me from behind a copy of the newspaper, in order to minimise visual distraction. The Independent's chef was as eager to give me his phone number as he was to dole out lasagne. And the nice man I met at the bus stop seemed concerned with my welfare: "You look cold," he said. (It was true that, for all its warmth indoors, the thin layer of wool offered scant defence against the Docklands gales.) "I can see you're shivering. In fact, I can see your..."
"Yes!" I cried. "Thank you!"
When the local builders called down compliments, I knew I had found fashion's Holy Grail, where high conceptualism meets the man in the street and they shake hands: come and 'ave a go if you think you're avant garde enough.
Fashion's revolving door : What's in & out this week
IN – ringmasters
Marlene Dietrich meets Vivienne Westwood: tailcoats and knee-high boots may smack of period dramas, but we're enjoying the smoulder and parlour-game politesse the combo conveys. A good tailcoat nips in at the waist, elongates the torso and accentuates the curve of your back. If full-length seems too "Mr Darcy", there are shorter versions available – try Topshop's £75 offering.
OUT – clowns
Summer's vogue for harlequin prints and Pierrot collars was the last death rattle of frippery. In a recession, less is more so keep frills and ruffles sophisticated, not slap-stick. Copies of the iconic Commedia dell'Arte dresses from Miu Miu now look tired, so pick classic silhouettes and minimal outlines to avoid the "tiers of a clown" look. And while a wintery red nose can be cute, it should never be an accessory.