In the premiere of High Maintenance Season 3 last month, the pot dealer known as “The Guy” notices a girl at a gas station who walks out of frame, but stands out in her canary yellow jumpsuit made by Audrey Louise Reynolds.
“We wanted something distinct that would convey a piece of her personality,” explained the show’s Costume Designer, Keri Langerman, about her wardrobe choice. From that jumpsuit, we can tell a lot: she is independent, free-spirited, fashion-forward and strong. I would even argue that because of that jumpsuit (and the fact that she pays for a stranger’s gas) “the guy” falls in love.
The outfit made a cameo just as I began noticing coveralls first on a sprinkling of women, and then more and more. Now you can find the workwear jumpsuit everywhere, in thrift shops carrying vintage Dickie’s, boutiques like Bird, the stores of local designers like Judi Rosen and national brands like Madewell.
If fashion is a mirror of our times, then it’s only fitting that the utilitarian jumpsuit will be women’s must-have item. 2019 is shaping up to be a year where women must roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty. Last year, a record number of women ran for Congress; this year they are ensconced in the seats, ready to fight. At Trump’s State of the Union last week, the Democratic women in Congress wore “suffragette white” to stand out in a sea of conservative navy. The photos were striking, and perfect for spreading virally on social media. Seemingly ricocheting off of these garment choices comes the jumpsuit. With this much work to do (impeachment!) we’re going to need an all-in-one outfit that’s tough as nails, comfortable and durable.
“In pants, I feel more equal. In a jumpsuit, I feel ready. I feel that right now, I need to be ready for anything that may come up in a day,” says stylist Karyn Starr, the co-founder of White Starr aesthetic consulting firm. “Something I talk about a lot with my clients is when life is a little tough, think about dressing ‘warrior chic’ for each day.”
The jumpsuit that’s now so on trend should not be confused with the romper or those silky one-pieces that look fragile, dressy and flattering. These are mechanic coveralls, reminiscent of “Rosie the Riveter” and all the World War II ladies who worked in factories. Yet the origins of jumpsuits for women are strictly fashion. “Elsa Schiaparelli was the first Paris couturier to design jumpsuits; she was known for hanging with the Surrealists and designing with their inspiration,” says Lisa Santandrea, adjunct professor of Fashion History at Parsons. “The Met has a one-piece sleeveless Schiaparelli jumpsuit from 1930—but later in the 1930s, she designed a more work-a-day design with long sleeves and, importantly, pockets. Pockets mean no purses, and that’s more freedom.”
This pocket gender gap is real, as Fast Company writer Elizabeth Segran points out, forcing women to carry and keep track of an extra accessory that squanders precious time and mobility.
Freedom is one of the biggest reasons female fans cited when talking about their love of jumpsuits. Lincoln is a new clothing line that specializes in jumpsuits based on vintage men’s coveralls, which they sell in a variety of mouthwatering colors, all with a plethora of pockets. “We’re constantly looking for ways to streamline and simplify our complicated lives (just look at the success of Kondo – spark joy!), and a one-piece outfit does just that by removing the guesswork,” says Alexis Rothenberg, co-founder of Lincoln. “While the dress conquers the issue similarly, a jumpsuit updates that offering with pockets and greater freedom of movement. And it gives every person a chance to wear ‘the pants.’ And we like pants!”
Women are wearing so many different hats, and the jumpsuit provides a uniform to wear for any and all occasions. It’s as functional as it is versatile, lending itself to dressing up or down, depending on the occasion.
“Our customers are stylists, CEOs, chefs, writers, mothers, doctors, artists, attorneys and they have an unbelievable amount to accomplish in a day,” says Rothenberg. “You want an outfit that can take you from points a through d and beyond comfortably and confidently.”
At Brooklyn’s most popular brick and mortar boutique, Bird, there are loads of different jumpsuit options right now, ranging from denim v-necks to vintage-style flight suits. “There is power in wearing clothes that allow you to create, to move freely, to run, jump and kick, even if that’s not what you are spending all your time doing,” says Bird’s founder and owner, Jen Mankins. “While I think the utilitarian styles do go hand and hand with the powerful new women’s movement that is happening, I think overall the variety of fashion choices women have today is a reflection of the fact that women have more freedom and choice in almost all aspects of life,” she says.
For some the jumpsuit is just another basic, like the striped tee or jeans. High Maintenance’s Keri Langerman, for instance, owns multiple ones. “You know honestly, I feel like jumpsuits have been on trend for so long, that they have transcended the idea of a ‘trend’ and have simply become a staple for some women.”
“I swear by jumpsuits,” says lawyer and sustainability advocate, Whitney R. MacGuire, whose well-styled jumpsuit I spotted at The Wing one recent morning. “The right jumpsuit can make me feel revolutionary and liberated, two adjectives I would also use to describe my life and work.” She happened upon a rack of vintage jumpsuits at Beacon’s Closet for under $20 and appreciated jumpsuits as a way to minimize her closet and as a statement against overconsumption. “They also make me feel like a multi-tasking badass when I’m juggling a morning routine with an infant and can still look decent once I leave the house.” From mother to attorney to advocate, a jumpsuit can go anywhere.
“Jumpsuits are also revolutionary,” she continued, and evocative of movements for the liberation of oppressed people. “Historically, many different groups have used jumpsuits for multiple reasons, especially to establish uniformity due to their utilitarian purpose. I am a fan of workwear jumpsuits because they represent equity for me in terms of gender constructs.”
So is the utilitarian jumpsuit is the new power suit? More women are in power positions, and they need a perfectly crafted suit that comes in so many price points, colors, and fabrics. Its functional aspects mean that women can be ready for anything, and in 2019 women should be ready to tear down the patriarchy or break a glass ceiling at any given moment. A power jumpsuit just might help close the gender gap, if only symbolically.
It’s “a garment that allows women to participate in life as fully as men,” reiterates Parsons professor Lisa Santandrea. “A garment that simplifies dressing and decision-making. It’s a symbol of freedom and independence, and that’s an idea that’s perfectly in tune with our times.”