Friday, 18 February 2011

The jumpsuit

There’s no love more constant than the love a woman has for an article or type of clothing, first worn when one is young and the loss of which is always mourned.  The defining style moment forever setting the course of your fashion evolution and which, years later when it may no longer be appropriate to wear, you look back and pine for the days when you could.  For my mother, who had great legs and neat slender ankles, it was the mini skirt; for my sister it’s her flares which, at nearly forty, are probably too stark a reminder of having been around for them the first time to still wear now.  For me, I’ve always loved the jumpsuit.

As a friend rightly pointed out, the jumpsuit is everybody’s first foray into fashion.  We’re all in rompers from day one – they’re convenient, adorable and you can get them in multipacks so when the inevitable happens, one goes in the wash and the next one’s there and ready.  Growing up, I hankered for the convenience and obvious stylishness of the one-piece.  I dabbled with dungarees during my first few years at school – they were a welcome escape from the restrictions of the shirt, skirt and itchy tights combo of school uniform.  Then for my ninth birthday I found a cotton onesie in Marks and Spencer.

In my head, I had a 1970s style ideal of a silken belted number which I could accessorise with a flowing headscarf and big sunglasses.  But I was nine and this was west London, and the bit beyond the fringes of the cool and bohemian.  Plus, it’s definitely a look that requires height, something I am sadly lacking.  Despite its failure to live up to my aesthetic aspirations, I absolutely loved this jumpsuit and wore it proudly after school every day and most weekends.  It was the one thing my mother had to wrestle from me to wash and guarantee it was around again to wear the next day.  Unlike those adverts, I didn’t have a teddy bear I couldn’t part with.  I had a giant romper suit. 

Well, I don’t want to go into the sartorial rights and wrongs of it – and really, don’t we all have a photograph tucked away in which we’re wearing an all-in-one of some description.  I was making do with what was available and I did try and jazz it up with a snappy belt or a jaunty hat where I could.  Sometimes I’d wear a floral vest underneath and leave the poppers undone (I should clarify that it only had poppers on the top half; it wasn’t a real romper after all).  I tried once to wear a long-sleeve t-shirt underneath and tied the arms around my waist but the navy blue colour made me look decidedly mechanic-like and that wasn’t really where I was heading with it.

A few years later, and in my mid-teens, I found a skin tight black cat suit.  Bodies were all the rage at the time, and the body-con aesthetic of the eighties was still wrestling with the softer lines of the early nineties so it was a tricky thing to wear convincingly.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on my friends faces when I turned up at the flicks on a Saturday afternoon wearing this, with my hair curled and big hoop earrings.  I’m not sure if they thought I’d confused myself with Sandy from Grease, or that I’d strayed from my Catholic upbringing into the world’s oldest profession.  Either way, I felt a million dollars.  Saying that, I did then buy a black chiffon artist style tunic to wear over the top which had the dual effect of covering me up and preventing the ear ache of my mother telling me that a girl my age shouldn’t really dress like that or I’d attract “the wrong sort of attention”.  As a fairly gauche teenager, all attention was the wrong sort and that created a terrible tension between my clothing desires and my ability to wear them out in public.

You can imagine my delight over the last few years since the playsuit’s resurgence.  They’re not fooling anyone – we all know they’re jumpsuits… and I love it.  My heart actually skipped a beat as I pressed myself up against Topshop’s virtual window at and eyeballed these marvellous things.  Slightly awkwardly, they were all cut super short and, once you get to a certain age, or at least a certain level of acceptance of the reality of a pear shape, those were never going to work.  I scoured the high street for longer legged versions, and eventually found two – one Hennes and one Oasis – both were absolutely perfect.  I’ve lived in them for the last two summers, totally content and utterly confident that they go with everything.  Dressing up?  Whack on a pair of heels, some natty headgear, a beautiful belt, and a smile.  Heading to the beach?  Put your bikini on underneath, roll the legs up, stick on some flip flops and you’re good to go.  Hanky on the head is optional but always advisable.

My big fear was that the jumpsuit may have had its moment and mine are certainly looking a bit tired.  Is it possible to love something too much, I pondered.  Giving myself a good shake, I reasoned that we’re constantly sold the idea of lifelong love and why should sartorial love be any different.  I determined to recommit to the one-piece; my joy when I started looking round the high street and realised they’re still out there was boundless.  They’re becoming increasingly sophisticated in a fantastic variety of shapes and fabrics.  They are certainly hanging on in there and, more than that, there is sufficient variety to keep the sceptical or downright dubious as happy as the ardent fans.  At the moment you can get an array of styles from soft and drapey batwings to sheer balletic fabrics and florals, a veritable homage to the wonderful Margo from the Good Life; as well as sleeker, more fitted versions and the occasional nod to Bardot-esque Monaco daywear.

Of course, in the terrible but inevitable event of a dwindling in playsuit popularity I’m wondering if it’s worth learning to make one.  Having a look around the internet, I found the DIY Couture website ( who are producing a pattern for a make-your-own jumpsuit which should be out over the summer.  This way the opportunities are limitless – you can play with length, waist, cuff and sleeve style, bagginess of trouser, fabric and colour.  This is definitely the way forward.  They also have a fantastic ethos of understanding where your clothes come from and engaging with the process of production.  Similarly, a quick Google search reveals a wealth of interesting vintage jumpsuit patterns that should keep the onesie phenomenon interesting for the diehard fans at least. 

Making your own and defining a personal aesthetic go hand-in-hand, and that’s a good position to fall back on once the high street moves on from the inimitable jumpsuit.

No comments:

Post a Comment