Leotards: A Brief History of the Sleek and Form-Fitting Garments

Leotards have become a staple in the circus and gymnastics. They are sleek, form-fitting, and versatile, making them the perfect garment for such activities. However, the emphasis on what leotards are designed to do has shifted over the years.

In this blog, we will explore the fascinating history of leotards. So read on! 

Where Does the Term "Leotards" Come From?

The costume worn by the legendary French trapeze artist Jules Léotard during his performances is commonly referred to as a "leotard." Jules Léotard, born in 1842 and passing away in 1870, amazed audiences with his extraordinary trapeze skills throughout his tragically short life. His daring acts on the trapeze inspired the creation of the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" in 1867.

He referred to his clothing as a "maillot," which denotes a close-fitting garment. It wasn't until 1886, many years after his death, that similar costumes were dubbed "leotards." Though Jules Léotard popularised the leotard, it is thought that its origins date back a century to when body stockings were preferred undergarments for popular Roman gowns. 

Who Wears Leotards and How Has Their Use Changed?

Leotards were initially worn by acrobats and circus performers in the early 1900s. During that time, gymnasts preferred to wear dresses to maintain modesty. However, in the 1920s and 1930s, leotards began to resemble their modern form and started influencing swimming uniforms as well. This period also witnessed a rise in the use of leotards among professional gymnasts and dancers.

Women were freer to expose their skin during this period, allowing for more expression. Broadway showgirls and European burlesque performers were seen wearing leotards during this time. With this, the glamorous art of vaudeville and acrobatic dancing was born.

Were Leotards Also Meant for Kids?

Leotards were not initially meant for kids. Children started wearing leotards in the 20th century, and it was referred to as the "Little Dancer's Leotard." At the time, it was difficult to purchase leotards specifically for children, so parents often bought them from local dance classes until department stores began selling them.

How Did Its Design Evolve?

A few years after its creation, the leotard underwent several changes. It started as plain black and evolved into various colours, patterns, prints, and designs.

Modern leotards have a high neck and are topped with revealing blouses to reveal the stomach. This design was unusual at first. It was invented in the 20th century by prominent female ballet dancer Carolyn Sue Gilbert. After then, leotards typically had a high-neck design.

From a one-piece to a two-piece bodysuit, the leotard evolved. Two-piece tights are another name for two-piece leotards. This design is renowned for its versatility because it may be worn as a bodysuit or costume when combined with a skirt or something resembling a dress.


Leotards have come a long way since their inception and have transformed from practical garments for modesty to versatile and fashionable attire for performers. As we reflect on the history and trivia of leotards, we can appreciate how this garment has evolved and left its mark on various fields of performance. Its enduring popularity and adaptability highlight leotards' significant role in empowering athletes and artists to express themselves with grace and agility.


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