When Jules Leotard created the Maillot it was initially intended for men. If you do a little research you will find that as early as the 1920’s, photos of the circus “strong man” showed the man himself wearing this style of leotard. In fact, 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.
I know what you are all thinking, but I never see a man in a leotard anymore. What actually happened is that although the style of men and women’s leotard was pretty much the same, the popularity of the women’s version in the late 1970s led to the decline in them being used by male dancers, this was most prevalent in the United States and although some companies did continue to produce version for men, the sales of women’s leotards was their main focus.
So what do women and, to a lesser extent men, do when they are wearing them? What are the benefits for the wearer? Well, firstly they are breathable and very light to wear, great for athletes, but the most practical applications for their use are still dance, theatre, and exercise. This has extended to under-clothing garments, in addition to recreational and casual wear in children and adults alike. 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.
Nowadays leotards are worn by a wide variety of athletes and acrobats including; gymnasts, dancers and even thespians. You’ll definitely see them at the circus and they are often worn with other garments, some have long sleeves and those with legs and arms are called a unitard.
As the leotard is a one piece garment it must usually be entered through the neck opening, this is a little different to a body suit as they generally have a snap at the crotch so you can pull it on over your head. Or they resemble a body sock and so you step into the legs and then zip up the back of the suit to close.
So what else can leotards be used for? Well men and women wear them for yoga, running or other cardiovascular exercises, dance and ballet. Figure skating also features a leotard, generally long sleeved due to the cold temperatures on the ice. It is also frowned upon to wear underwear under the leotard and in fact the leotard is designed to be worn without underwear as it is cut high above the hip and waistline. Some dance schools have banned wearing underwear and indeed in competition points can be deducted for visible underwear during a performance or routine. So as you can see the humble leotard has had quite a journey, has been used for a wide range of activities and still is to this day. It’s been noted that even men are starting to don the garment more often again as professional dance becomes more and more popular.