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A child ballet dancer wearing a modern design of leotard.

A leotard is a unisex skin-tight one-piece garment that covers the torso but leaves the legs free. It was made famous by the French acrobatic performer Jules Léotard (1842–1870), about whom the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" was written.

Leotards are worn by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, athletes, thespians, and circus performers both as practice garments and performance costumes. They are often worn together with tights and sometime bike shorts. There are sleeveless, short-sleeved and long-sleeved leotards. A variation is the unitard, which also covers the legs. As a casual garment, a leotard can be worn with a belt.

Leotards are entered through the neck, in contrast to bodysuits which generally have snaps at the crotch, allowing the garment to be pulled on over the head. Scoop-necked leotards have wide neck openings and are held in place by the elasticity of the garment. Others are crew necked or polo necked and close at the back of the neck with a zipper or snaps.

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Use

Leotards are used equally by both men and women for a variety of purposes, including yoga, cardiovascular exercise, dance, ballet, as pajamas, additional layered warmth under clothing, and for recreational and casual wear. They also form a part of children's dressing up and play outfits and can also be worn as a top.

Leotards are commonly worn in figure skating, modern dance, traditional ballet and gymnastics, especially by young children. Practice leotards are usually sleeveless; competition garments for gymnastics and skating are almost always long-sleeved.

Many leotards are cut high enough above the legs that they expose underwear. For this reason, underwear is often omitted, or special underwear, cut high on the waist, is worn. Many dance studios forbid underwear. Gymnastics judges can deduct points for visible underwear.

Despite the fact that many leotards are marketed as being for women, they are actually designed as unisex. This marketing failure has only been addressed as of early 2009. Additionally, many companies are now specifically targeting men in light of the increased popularity of the leotard.

History

Typical one-piece swimsuit of today
Typical aerobic exercise wear of the 1980s

The first known use of the name leotard came only in 1886, many years after Léotard's death. Léotard himself called the garment a maillot, which is a general french word for different types of tight-fitting shirts or sports shirts [[1]]. In the early 20th century, leotards were mainly confined to circus and acrobatic shows, worn by the specialists who performed these acts.

The 1920s and 1930s saw leotards influencing the style of bathing suits, with women's one-piece swimsuits today still being similar in appearance to leotards.

Leotards were also worn by professional dancers such as the showgirls of Broadway. Stage use of the leotard typically coordinated the garment with stockings or tights.

In the 1950s, traditionally-styled leotards continued to be worn mainly by stage performers and circus actors, but leotards began to be used as simple and functional exercise garments, often in institutional settings like schools and in fitness training. These were almost always black and worn together with thick tights. Between 1950 and 1970, leotards remained as such in appearance until a style change in the 1970s, with more colorful leotards appearing on the scene, most often in ballet and exercise.

By the late 1970s leotards had become common both as exercise and street wear, popularized by the disco craze, and aerobics fashion craze of the time. These leotards were produced in a variety of nylon and spandex materials, as well as the more traditional cotton previously used for uni-colored leotards and tights. Exercise videos by celebrities such as Jane Fonda also did much to popularize the garment. The dancewear company Danskin flourished during this period, producing a wide variety of leotards for both dance and street wear. Other companies, such as Gilda Marx, produced leotards during this time period then ceased production when they were no longer in fashion. By the late 1980s leotards for exercise wear had become little more than bikini bottoms with straps over the shoulders, generally worn with cropped shirts. From the mid 80's through the mid 90's leotards were popularly worn as tops with jeans especially skinny jeans. By the mid 1990s leotards had been almost completely replaced for exercise wear by the sports bra and shorts.

Among exercise garments, leotards may be seen along with other types of garments, such as T-shirts, crop tops and tights.

Men's leotards

An image of Jules Léotard in the garment that bears his name

When Jules Léotard created the Maillot it was initially intended for men. This style of leotard can be seen in early 20th century photos of the circus "strong man". Men's leotards evolved along with the women's style, eventually resembling it, except that the men's version had a slightly lower cut leg opening and a lower cut front. The current style for men's leotards are as numerous as women's, including the polo and crew neck variants, meaning that they are virtually identical in their design. The popularity of leotards in women's fashion during the late 1970s caused a gradual decline in their use by male dancers, particularly in the U.S. where this fashion trend was most visible. Despite this, several companies, including Danskin continued to produce men's leotards well into the early 1980s. In very recent years, 2008 onwards, Men's leotards have had a remarkable comeback. The most practical applications for their use are still dance, theatre, and exercise; but have extended to yoga, under-clothing garments, in addition to recreational and casual wear. Unlike the historical tendency for men to wear tights over the leotard, it is now the standard for both men and women to wear tights under the leotard.

See also








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