How jumpsuit trends have changed over the decades

Beloved by both men and women, one-piece styles have altered dramatically from the early 20th century to today.

Prudence Wade
Saturday 23 October 2021 09:00

When you think about it, jumpsuits are actually quite bizarre. They’re basically adult baby grows.

And yet in recent years they’ve become ubiquitous for men and women – both on the red carpet and the streets.

So how did jumpsuits go from military wear to fashion’s favourite item of clothing?

Functional beginnings…

Rosie the Riveter (Alamy/PA)

Jumpsuits can be incredibly glamorous, but the trend certainly didn’t start that way. First worn by parachuters in the military – hence the name ‘jumpsuit’ – the look was initially designed to be very utilitarian. The style was all about function, with lots of pockets and neutral tones involved.

Although various designers tried to give the jumpsuit a more stylish spin in the first half of the 20th century – such as Elsa Schiaparelli’s elegant silk jumpsuits of the 1930s – jumpsuits really took off for women during World War Two, and glamour wasn’t part of the equation.

One of the enduring symbols of WWII is Rosie the Riveter – the fictional woman in the ‘We Can Do It’ poster clutching her bicep and, yes, wearing a blue jumpsuit. She became an emblem of women entering the workforce – to do so, they needed to wear something more practical than dresses and skirts.

Making its way into fashion…

Elvis Presley wearing his iconic white jumpsuit (RCA Records/PA)

The jumpsuit’s status as a bona fide fashion item was confirmed in 1964 when it first made an appearance in the pages of Vogue. This was the beginning of a boom time for jumpsuits, particularly as it coincided with the women’s liberation movement and women increasingly wearing trousers.

Jumpsuits really came into their own during the 1970s though. Think of Elvis Presley’s white one-pieces: bejewelled and fringed, it became the singer’s defining look – and he wasn’t alone in loving OTT styles. The disco era brought with it all manner of fabulously sequinned creations, worn by everyone from Diana Ross to ABBA.

The style helped bridge the gap between stereotypically ‘male’ and ‘female’ fashion, with more androgynous dressers such as David Bowie favouring a jumpsuit.

Experimenting with different styles…

Jumpsuits in the 1980s were big, bold and often baggy (PA)

While jumpsuits didn’t quite reign supreme in the 1980s and 1990s, they didn’t disappear entirely.

Instead, different styles came to the fore – and in the Eighties that meant everything from acid wash denim romper suits to geometric patterns in bright colours. Big belts and massive shoulders matched the obligatory huge hair of the time.

Robbie Williams performing with Take That in 1992 (PA)

Things took a more minimalist turn in the Nineties, when grungy styles went mainstream. Denim overalls became an overriding trend for both men and women, and could be styled in various ways – with a flannel shirt tied around your waist for that Kurt Cobain look, or with one strap hanging down and a funky t-shirt underneath – a la Will Smith in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.

Jumpsuits today…

In the past two decades, jumpsuits have conquered the last bastion of fashion: the red carpet. Stars show you don’t just have to wear ballgowns for formal occasions, giving us some major jumpsuit moments on the red carpet.

From Amal Clooney wearing a chic Stella McCartney navy number in 2019…

George and Amal Clooney the People’s Postcode Lottery charity gala in 2019 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

… to Sandra Bullock in sparkling Zuhair Murad for the UK premiere of Ocean’s 8…

Sandra Bullock attending the European premiere of Ocean’s 8 (Ian West/PA)

… and Rihanna wearing a knock-out white jumpsuit to the 2018 Diamond Ball.

As fashion becomes increasingly androgynous, jumpsuits are arguably more popular than ever – thanks to stars such as Harry Styles.

Harry Styles performing in a blue glittery jumpsuit in 2019 (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Dressed up for the office or down for a beach holiday, if changing styles have taught us anything, it’s that a jumpsuit is always the way to go.

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