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Jumpsuits - In the 80s and Today

Update 03.04.13: The jumpsuit trend continues with celebrity sightings galore (see Miley Cyrus at the recent Rachel Zoe show). A quick search of Polyvore yields tons of options all across the price spectrum to help you jump on it and suit up!

Update 06.01.11: When we wrote this piece a about a year ago, jumpsuits were showing up in the stores for the first time in years (maybe since the late 80s/ early 90s). However, they didn’t fully take off last year. But, this Summer the jumpsuit (also being marketed as the romper) is a full blown fashion trend. They come in both a pant and short version and can be seen in every imaginable pattern and color. A recent trip to Forever 21 yielded many options, some super cute! Granted, this trend requires a certain body type, but for those that have it, they can be cute and comfy and oh-so-hip this Summer. By our calculation, Forever 21 has over 225 of these gems to choose from.


Talk of jumpsuits makes me go “oh yeah,” slowly and with eyes squinted, like I can’t quite remember them. It’s a lie. I totally remember them. I just don’t want to. My own 80s jumpsuit was white, zipped up the back, and had super-tapered ankles and batwing sleeves that started at the waist. When I spread my arms I looked like a human triangle. It was undeniably cringe-worthy; I see that now. But I loved that white bat-wing human-triangle jumpsuit, and I tell you I got many compliments on it while crawlin’ the mall on a Saturday afternoon.

E.G. Daily wearing a red jumpsuit in "Valley Girl"Jumpsuits are back. Batwings are not.

First, a little history: Jumpsuits were ubiquitous in the 70s, with their wide, flowing legs that made fashionable women’s-libbers look like they were wearing long flow-y dresses. (If you’re interested in reviving that look and handy with a Singer, check out the vintage McCall’s sewing patterns available on ebay.)

The 80s jumped in to jumpsuits with both feet, thanks to Devo’s shiny silver jumpsuits in their 1980 video for Whip It. Yes, they were meant to be ironic and playfully silly, but hey—they were pretty cool. Sort of industrial fashion, like a bunch of guys who worked in a factory by day and rocked out by night. Maybe that’s why it caught on; it was effortlessly cool, like you weren’t taking yourself too seriously. I mean, talk about instant dressing—just step in, zip up, and you’re done.

Of course, after that came the inevitable re-styling of the look, compliments of the fashion industry. Remember E.G. Daily’s hot red jumpsuit as Loryn in 1983’s Valley Girl? It had an off-center zipper that gave it an industrial work-clothes vibe, but it was cinched with a purple patent-leather belt. A very cool meeting of style and blue-collar work ethic.

Today’s jumpsuits are a lot more jump and a lot less suit. That is to say, they involve a lot less fabric than my batwings or E.G. Daily’s zippered placket. (Of course, if it’s the real deal you crave, ebay’s got a selection of 80s vintage jumpsuits, most for under $75 dollars.)

Today's updated version of the 80s jumpsuitAnthropologie’s updated jumpsuit is billed as a romper. It’s short, so there’s no fabric on the legs, and it’s strapless, so no fabric on the shoulders and arms either. But it’s got an interesting fold-thing going on at the waist—kind of like a grandpa turning his pockets inside out to show you the state of his finances. That’s not to say it’s a frumpy look—on the contrary, there’s something really appealing about it. Maybe because the extra waist-fabric looks to me like batwings re-imagined.

Boston Proper’s got the full-length jumpsuit look going on, much closer to the 80s style (seen to the right). The fabric is body-skimming, and paired with the wide-ish belt, these jumpsuits cut a pretty clean figure. Which is one of the challenges of the jumpsuit, right? If you’ve got the body to wear it, it’s pretty hot—body-defining without being revealing. But if you’re not the type who feels comfortable in pants with shirts tucked in, preferring instead for a little mid-region camouflage, jumpsuits are probably not for you.

Unless you’re just chillin’ in the bat cave.

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