An Ode to the Jumpsuit

It’s been three years since jumpsuits made a reappearance in fashion, and although the 80s revival has been going on for a good eight years now, it took some time for the jumpsuits, rompers, onesies, et al to return safely into mainstream consciousness. We just couldn’t reconcile ourselves to wearing them again. The first signs were the return of bright colors, the knit drop-waist t-shirts and skirts. The poppy, Madonna side of the 80s.

But what about the boxy tailoring? No way. The slouchy pants? No way. Leggings? I remember when people said they wouldn’t be caught dead again in leggings but that was before arbiters like Kate Moss–if she wore stirrup pants, what the hey, we would, too. Now of course leggings are everywhere and on everyone. Baggy jackets are the rage, and balloon-hipped carrot pants have made a return. It was only a matter of time before jumpers were back.

Like most revivals of the postmodern age, there is usually a large dose of irony mixed with youthful obliviousness to what all those fashions meant back then. Now we have a whole generation of teenagers and early 20-somethings who barely if at all lived in the 80s. It’s almost time for a 90s revival. (I don’t know how we’ll do that. The 90s were supposed to be the non-decade. The decade against decades.) The most annoying revivals are usually the ones you wore to death as a teenager. You took them so seriously then, that to wear it now as an adult would be an identity crisis.

Here is a good example of what teenagers, including me, did not wear in the 80s. I did the big blazers in the mid-80s, but I was only a teenager and the blazers made me feel grown up. I did the leggings and the legwarmers and the down-to-the-thighs v-neck blousy sweaters. (They had to be pale pink, or blue, or else.) But I never did jumpsuits. So five years ago, when I was shopping in a Goodwill in Las Vegas and I spotted a bright red, big shouldered rayon jumpsuit with carrot legs and big fakey gold buttons (a silhouette much like this Butterick pattern) I thought, “How fun! How ironic!” The thing screamed Olivia Newton-John, and as of then, jumpsuits weren’t anywhere on the fashion radar. I’d never worn these things because, as I said, when they were popular I was a teenager and these were made for older women, a kind of dressy/casual work thing.

I wore it once or twice and even though my husband gently reminded me how ‘aerobic’ it looked (he just doesn’t like the 80s, period), I harbored a desire for more jumpsuits. And just when it seemed that fashion had mined every possible 80s trend and the coast was clear, Stella McCartney, revivalist and 80s child as she is, jolted us into reality with this piece in her Fall 2007 show:

Funny enough, this piece was preceeded by 31 other styles on the runway which were all heavily layered jackets and dresses in monotones of black and gray. Then this crazy number walked out of the winter. “Yes, people, jumpsuits will be back.”

Stella had done a few other all-in-ones, but they were so disguised. I think this was the first real 80s jumpsuit to come back. The dropped waist, the ankle-slim leg. And in that iconic 80s color, brazen hot pink. With no adornment but that California dreamy look she does so well. And then of course done in a lavish cashmere-silk knit fabric to make it now. Although fashion blogs all over cried horror, I coveted that piece. I absolutely loved it. And it probably all looks normal to you now, because since then from high to low, everyone started doing jumpsuits.

Tailored, blousy, knit, athletic. No longer did designers seem concerned with how women would use the restroom. Everyone had a take. I think mainly the real reason I like the jumpsuit is that it is like a dress–not having to mix top and bottom–only you get the ease of trousers.

I still think I like Stella McCartney’s rompers/jumpsuits the best, and she’s done at least one in every season since then. There is a dreamy, girlish quality to them and yet a grown-up Hollywood glamour at the same time. Her follow-up Spring 2008 had many floaty jumpsuits in six entirely different silhouettes.

Her cotton-silk jumpsuit on the left was all over the fashion blogs with varying opinions on its wearability but I can testify in person was absolutely beautiful. It was gorgeous fabric with the right drapey weight and the ability to close up if one needed more modesty.

Jumpsuits weren’t at all an 80s invention, of course. The 70s was the ultimate romper decade, and many of those silhouettes were as unforgiving as the fabrics were. When hunting down sewing patterns for jumpsuits, most of what I found were Farrah Fawcett, circa Charlie’s Angels things, like the Simplicity pattern below at left.

But there was also a glamorous and easy 70s jumpsuit, more inspired by the 1940s. The pattern above at right is from the late 70s, and it’s getting closer to what I’d like to wear now. Since I’ve been getting back into sewing lately, and particularly teaching myself pattern drafting, I’m making this one of my spring and summer challenges. A flowy, glamorous and yet easy-to-wear jumpsuit.

You see, jumpsuits solve a lot of problems for someone like me. I don’t want to dress like a teenager or 20something anymore. But I don’t have a dress code; I work at home. I live in a very hot climate and need cotton, silk, linen. I like funky and vintage. I am getting tired of jeans. I don’t like wearing dresses all the time but they’re easy to style–and a jumpsuit is kind of like a long dress, only with trousers.

So I’m hunting patterns that will help me draft a jumpsuit like this liquid royal silk piece from the latest Stella McCartney collection. I’d love the whole thing to have this kind of 70s but rooted in the 40s glamour, with a high waist and very loose wide trousers.

I can see myself breezing through an Austin summer in a crepe silk outfit like this. It might take me a few months but summer lasts from April to September so I’ve got time. Stay tuned for further developments.


  1. Kim says:

    Wow! Who knew I would like these after seeing them again? You failed to mention the big blazers WITH the roll-up sleeves, though…Laughed out loud at Derek’s “aerobic”-look comment. You would look good in anything.

  2. Kelly says:

    I love jumpsuits, nice finds. I am about to list a funky floral one in my shop. I am kinda having separation anxiety though. Haha.

Comments are closed.