It was the scourge of women's wardrobes in the 1980s: now "the body" is back to torment a new generation too young to remember the downsides of wearing it.
Sales are soaring despite the garment's notorious reputation as one of the least comfortable items of clothing ever invented. Retailers, taking their cue from pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna as well as catwalk designers like Lanvin and Chloé, are increasing their stocks for the rest of the year.
Fans rate the body, also known as the bodysuit, for much the same reason that Donna Karan, the New York designer who made it famous, alighted on it. It goes with – and under – everything. And this time round, hi-tech fabrics mean bodies can double as 21st-century corsets, sucking in while covering up.
The body's revival comes alongside a slew of other unlikely resurgences, from jumpsuits and ponchos to dungarees and flares. Edith Youngblood, head of intimates at the fashion analysts WGSN, said the trend for vintage clothing had prompted women to reappraise what they wear – and why. "I hate to say it, but women have been known to forgo comfort for the sake of cutting-edge fashion, and the body is one of those instances. The vintage influence, which has translated to the high street, has a lot to do with women accepting some uncomfortable traditional aspects of lingerie."
Marks & Spencer, Asos and River Island are among the high-street retailers that have exploited the body trend. At the luxury bodywear label Wolford, sales of bodies are increasing faster than anything else it sells. A House of Fraser spokesman said customers were "demanding more and more styles". The department store group said sales of Flexees, its most popular shapewear brand, have jumped by 190 per cent compared with last year.
Just as the likes of Lady Gaga seek to shock with their outfits, flaunting so-called "intimates" in distinctly public settings, so do their fans. Farida Kaikobad, River Island's womenswear brand director, said: "Girls are wearing bodies as outerwear for an edgier look."
Jessica Brown, editor of the fashion industry title Drapers, said bodysuits also played into the dancewear trend, which the box office success of Black Swan has helped to reignite. "A body under a floaty or pleated skirt really plays into the ballerina look," she said.
But, as Ms Brown and others warn, fashion comes at a price where bodysuits are concerned. "They aren't that practical – toilet trips are a nightmare," she said.
Rob Phillips, of the London College of Fashion, said: "Those of us with longer memories can recall that bodies and jumpsuits are far from easy to wear – the construction relies on assuming that every woman has the same body proportions, which is clearly not the case. And it can lead to fashion horrors."
Mr Phillips said trends, even unlikely ones, would continue to make a comeback "because of the nature of design – as a designer it's important to look at what's gone before, in much the same way that trends in music come back around. But for all our sakes, let's hope the body isn't around for long this time."
Additional reporting by Karina Whalley
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