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This polished workwear staple moves like athleisure and makes you feel like a superhero

The next generation of the bodysuit.
  • Jenni Avins
By Jenni Avins

senior lifestyle correspondent

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

List the foundational garments of the working woman’s wardrobe, and several obvious staples come to mind: dresses, pants, sweaters, skirts, blouses, tees, jackets, tights and…bodysuits? Yes, bodysuits.

For the last two decades, the women who wore bodysuits—and they are among us—have been something of a secret society. The bodysuit, which is a shirt attached to a leotard-like bottom that snaps between the wearer’s legs, isn’t detectable when paired with a skirt or pants, of course, but these ladies looked smarter and sleeker than the rest of us. And they probably felt better, too. Imagine how your bottom feels in your favorite yoga pants, and then apply that to your torso.

But for years, office-appropriate bodysuits have been hard to find at a reasonable price, despite a growing global obsession with all that is stretchy and comfortable. Now, at last, a new generation of designers is bringing the bodysuit back.

Athleisure…for the office

Once upon a time, the bodysuit was an everyday garment. One of the “seven easy pieces” that first made Donna Karan indispensable to working women in the 1980s, it was a sleek layer to pair with skirts, pants, and blazers; a packing list essential for both Joan Didion and Gloria Steinem. It was a wardrobe solution.

AP Photo/Jim Wells
Gloria Steinem, bodysuit enthusiast.

Then, with a deep swing of the fashion pendulum, the bodysuit fell far out of favor. It was something our mothers wore; a strange, hybrid garment had nothing to do with young, business-casual, work-from-anywhere women.

Not your mother’s bodysuit

Recently, working in her studio in an Acne motorcycle jacket, heather grey Nike sweatpants slung around her hips, Alexandra Alvarez was a perfect poster girl for a new kind of bodysuit. An outfit that may have looked sloppy with a t-shirt looked sporty with her black, round-necked microfiber bodysuit.

Alvarez, a Miami native, started her fashion career by designing elaborate pants and skirts. For her final show at Parsons Design School in 2012, she needed simple, elegant tops to pair with her designs, and thought bodysuits would make the perfect solution. But then she tried to buy one.

“I just felt like they had gone extinct,” said Alvarez.

Imagine how your bottom feels in your favorite, most flattering yoga pants, and then apply that to your torso.

When Alvarez couldn’t find a happy medium between the sophisticated, $200-plus styles from the Austrian hosiery brand Wolford—which has made bodysuits for more than 20 years, and is widely considered the ne plus ultra in the category—and the cheap, casual, snap-free leotards from American Apparel, she recognized a void and started her own brand, Alix, in 2014. Her goal was to become a go-to source in the wide-open market.

Bodysuits by Alix.

Not even two years later, Alvarez counts ShopBop, Saks, Opening Ceremony, and (starting next season) Harvey Nichols among her stockists. She ships more than 15 styles, ranging from ribbed turtlenecks and charmeuse blouses to asymmetrical keyhole tanks, to customers across the Middle East, Australia, Europe, and the US. (Kendall Jenner is a fan.)

Similarly, the Los Angeles-based clothing brand Reformation, which prides itself on an ability to quickly adapt to customer feedback, introduced bodysuits in 2014, and had a runaway hit with its racy, lace-up Avalon style. Now Reformation offers no less than seven bodysuit styles on its website, where founder Yael Aflalo told Quartz they outsell regular tops.

“Everybody loves bodysuits,” said Aflalo. “I think it’s the clean tuck.”

Life is better in a bodysuit

Donna Karan, athleisure pioneer, has always loved a bodysuit. She told Quartz that this season she’s been living in the leather-accented sleeveless model she made for her Urban Zen collection.

“They are truly yoga into night, because that’s how I live,” said Karan. “To me, it’s a forever moment, not a trend.”

Women in Wolford—they’re all around us.

Like Karan, the glamorous New York-based fashion editor and critic Katharine Zarrella is rarely seen in any other garment.

“I’m always very happy with my figure in a bodysuit,” said Zarrella to Quartz, noting that her size eight body is curvier than most in the fashion industry. “Part of it is a self-confidence thing.”

Courtesy/Donna Karan Urban Zen
Bodysuit by Donna Karan Urban Zen.

Zarrella’s bodysuits—always black, and usually Wolford—give her a smooth, flattering canvas for layering with architectural and voluminous pieces by Comme des Garcons and Junya Watanabe. When we spoke, she had just restocked on Wolford turtlenecks in thong and full-bottom styles, to pair with pants and skirts, respectively.

I took a cue from Katharine and took a Wolford turtleneck—truly, the Cadillac of bodysuits—for a spin. Indeed, I felt like a more slim, sophisticated, and (oddly) able-bodied version of myself, as if its leotard-like design gave me superhero powers.

Wholly convinced, I have since made my first proper bodysuit purchase: the round-neck microfiber version I admired by Alix. I imagine it won’t be my last.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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