Will the jumpsuit ever take off?

Eager to find a must-have fashion trend, designers are pushing the all-in-one as 'the new dress'. Esther Walker sounds a note of sartorial caution
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Miuccia Prada, Versace, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen all showed them on the catwalk and now the high street is joining in: this summer, it's all about the jumpsuit. Floral and baggy, tight bright satin or "greige" with pockets all over it – there was a multitude of all-in-ones, onesies, and romper suits at the spring-summer collections in every fashion capital. Talk among fashionistas was that this was the look for 2008 – heralding it as this summer's replacement for the dress (which has settled back into being a perennial favourite from last year's excitable "reinvention").

Ever quick to pick up on a trend, Topshop featured jumpsuits all over its fashion show. The first three styles all sold out within days of delivery last week, with a navy, star-print jumpsuit particularly in demand. This weekend's shoppers will have to wait for the next consignment, due tomorrow. At Gap's flagship store on London's Oxford Street, a dark denim all-in-one takes pride of place but is selling out quickly – 15 were sold on the first day of delivery. Because it's stocked in only three branches, sales assistants report telephone calls to reserve it, a practice normally reserved for in-demand designer pieces.

Siobhan Mallen, Grazia's senior fashion editor, said: "They're probably a slowburner but I think jumpsuits will sell well, although they're a younger trend. The secret of wearing it is to think of it as a dress and to wear one with plenty of material around the waist so it's not too clingy.

"Pretty much all the high-street retailers have done versions, although they've tended to make them short rather than the long ones shown on the catwalks. The girls in the office are wearing them with tights. Even Jane [Bruton, the editor] has one, a Stella McCartney one, although she hasn't worn it yet,so we'll see."

The question is: beyond fashion editors and the style-gullible, will the jumpsuit fly? The very existence of this awkward garment is all Levi Strauss's fault. Mr Jeans himself brought out denim "Koveralls" for children in 1912. The following year, Lee revealed to the world the Union-All suit, designed for farmers and factory workers. A version of Lee's Union-All suit was worn by First World War pilots and then transformed into the flight suits worn by Second World War pilots and beyond. It was only after the war that the garment took on an avant-garde, arty meaning, with the constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko in a two-piece outfit designed to look like a jumpsuit.

It's not that jumpsuits in any incarnation are especially unflattering (though they do make going to the loo extremely awkward). They are less tricky than unforgiving skinny jeans everyone has been wearing for the past few years.

The problem is that no one has updated the jumpsuit in any decent way. The utility jumpsuit – as worn by bikers and mechanics – is slim-fitting and unadorned. No one, but no one, with any sense is ever going to wear something floral and voluminous as designed by Stella McCartney, or cropped at the crotch in slithery silk by Versace.

Gap, however, might have cracked the problem, which will ease us into the trend of the all-in-one by disguising the item as a pair of dungarees. It helps that it costs £49.50, and not £495 (see Stella M).

For those bold enough to try to carry off the look, take the advice of Gap's vice-president of public relations, Anita Borzyszkowska, who said last week: "It helps if you think about wearing it a bit like a dress."

This, however, is of no help to men considering the jumpsuit currently on offer for them, from Chanel and Prada...

On screen

Between 1962 and 1964 Honor Blackman starred as Dr Cathy Gale in 'The Avengers' in a black leather fighting suit. Anneka Rice was famous for jumping out of helicopters in a jumpsuit for TV's 'Treasure Hunt' and 'Challenge Anneka'. In a double jumpsuit special, the 2000 film version of 'Charlie's Angels' featured Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu in tight 'onesies'. 'Kill Bill' (2003) saw Uma Thurman as a murderous bride, clad throughout in a bright yellow jumpsuit.