The bodysuit lives on.
The one-piece garment, made famous by the likes of Jane Fonda with her color-blocked leotards in the Eighties, is back in style. Except, this time, women aren’t wearing bodysuits to work out in.
The latest versions, often found in solid colors with classic silhouettes, are fit for the office, paired with pants or a skirt under a jacket, a night out with sexy jeans, or just to feel comfortable under clothing. Fashionistas have also caught sight of bodysuits on the runway as of late, from Karl Lagerfeld’s last Fendi show to Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collection last fall to smaller designers like Rosa Cha, transforming an exercise ensemble into a luxury ath-leisure staple perfect for layering.
Others have a sexy vibe — think lace or pretty pastels — and can be worn under see-through dresses and blouses. In fact, that’s kind of the point: unmentionables are meant to be seen. That could mean a bra strap poking out under a low-cut blouse. Or a corset worn as a top. Bodysuits are just the beginning.
The stretchy one-pieces, once reserved for dancers and advanced workouts, are also functional: holding and molding a women’s body as needed. No need to keep tucking in a skirt all day long with a bodysuit. Just ask Donna Karan, who made the style one of her signature Seven Easy Pieces when she launched her own brand in the Eighties.
The trend points to the further casualization of American fashion — and emphasis on comfort — coupled with the desire to remain stylish.
“Consumer demand for comfort is more prominent than ever before and the idea of having to squeeze or struggle into something will no longer suffice,” said Lorna Hennelly, a research analyst at Euromonitor International.
At the same time, innovation in the shapewear industry — which has “historically been associated with garments that constrict and compress women to create an hourglass figure that appeals to the male gaze,” said Hennelly — has produced pieces that provide both comfort and style.
“We’re seeing that even as the body-positivity movement gains traction, there’s a growing demand for shapewear and it’s not a category that’s necessarily inherently anti-feminist,” Hennelly said.
It’s no surprise then that the innerwear-as-outerwear movement remains in full force, with celebrities like Gigi and Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna wearing bodysuits for public display.
At Journelle, a New York-based lingerie start-up, sales of bodysuits grew 5 percent in the most recent quarter and have steadily increased each quarter for the last two years.
Sandra Rose, Journelle’s vice president of merchandising, isn’t surprised.
“If you’re a woman [who] loves to wear quality clothes, why wouldn’t you feel that way about what’s underneath?” Rose said. “When you’re wearing a beautifully fitting undergarment that looks good, you feel different. You set the stage for your day.”
With that in mind, shapewear — which is just one segment of the larger lingerie category and includes bodysuits, control-top hosiery, bras, girdles, corsets, compression briefs and control slips — is definitely growing.
Various market research firms anticipate the compound annual growth rate in shapewear will rise between 6 percent and 9 percent from 2018 to 2024. A report by Persistence Market Research said global revenues for shapewear were worth more than $2 billion in 2018, while Report Buyer, another market research firm, is anticipating the market will be worth $6.4 billion by 2024.
Journelle, Spanx, Commando and Fashion Nova are just some of the brands capitalizing on the bodysuit in a variety of price points. Victoria’s Secret’s recent launch of French designer Livy in select stores includes undergarments best worn with plunging necklines and backless shirts. These include styles such as the sheer Bengal Monocure bodysuit, adorned with a decorative tiger across the back.
At Journelle, bras are even losing market share to bodysuits.
“We’re seeing a big uptick in our bodysuits and corsets, which women are opting to use as either layering pieces in their everyday wardrobe, or just wear as ready-to-wear pieces under a blazer when they go out at night,” Rose said.
Vermont-based intimates and foundational brand Commando has had similar results. Sales of bodysuits, the second fastest growing category at the company, have grown each year, nearly doubling in 2018. During last month’s New York Fashion Week, more than 20 designers outfitted their models in Commando undergarments, including bodysuits, according to Kerry O’Brien, the firm’s founder and designer.
O’Brien said women are using basic likes bodysuits to create line-free silhouettes, then layering other pieces on top.
“Our customers are completely getting on board and using our bodysuits as the canvas for their looks,” O’Brien said, adding that she’s even seen women about town wearing Commando undergarments as outerwear.
“Comfort does not mean sloppy,” O’Brien said.