A leotard is a unisex skin-tight one-piece garment that covers the torso but leaves the legs exposed. The garment was first made famous by the French acrobatic performer Jules Léotard (1838–1870). There are sleeveless, short-sleeved and long-sleeved leotards. A variation is the unitard, which also covers the legs.
Leotards are worn by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, figure skaters, athletes, actors, wrestlers, and circus performers both as practice garments and performance costumes. They are often worn together with ballet skirts on top and tights or sometimes bike shorts as underwear. As a casual garment, a leotard can be worn with a belt; it can also be worn under overalls or short skirts.
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.
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. In the early 20th century, leotards were mainly confined to circus and acrobatic shows, worn by the specialists who performed these acts.
During the 1970s and 1980s, leotards were extensively used as clothing for aerobic exercises, eventually displaced in the 1990s by Lycra pants similar to those used in cycling uniforms and in the 2000s they were replaced completely by trousers and leggings (tight clothing which cover the legs made of spandex and denim). It continues to be also worn by women cyclists and athletes in competitions.
Coming soon – a directory of resources for finding leotards in South Africa