AskDefine | Define leotards

Dictionary Definition

leotards n : skintight knit hose covering the body from the waist to the feet worn by acrobats and dancers and as stockings by women and girls [syn: tights]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of leotard

Extensive Definition

A leotard is a skin-tight one-piece garment that covers the torso and body but leaves the legs free. It was made famous by the French acrobatic performer Jules Léotard (18391870), about whom the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" was written.
Leotards are worn by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, thespians, and circus performers both as practice garments and performance costumes. They are often worn together with tights. There are sleeveless, short-sleeved and long-sleeved leotards. A variation is the unitard, which also covers the legs.
Leotards are entered through the neck. (Contrast with 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.


Leotards are commonly worn in figure skating, modern dance, traditional ballet and gymnastics, especially by young children. Practice leotards are usually sleeveless; competition garments for gymnastics and skating are almost always long-sleeved.
Many leotards are cut high enough above the legs that they expose underwear. For this reason, underwear is often omitted, or special underwear, cut high on the waist, is worn. Many dance studios forbid underwear. Gymnastics judges can deduct points for visible underwear.


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 in French has now come to mean a swimsuit. In the early 20th century, leotards were mainly confined to circus and acrobatic shows, worn by the specialists who performed these acts.
The 1920s and 1930s saw leotards influencing the style of bathing suits, with women's bathing suits today similar in appearance to leotards. Leotards were also worn by professional dancers such as the showgirls of Broadway. Stage use of the leotard typically coordinated the garment with stockings or tights.
In the 1950s, traditionally-styled leotards continued to be worn mainly by stage performers and circus actors, but leotards began to be used as simple and functional exercise garments, often in institutional settings like schools and in fitness training. These were almost always black and worn together with thick tights. Between 1950 and 1970, leotards remained as such in appearance until a style change in the 70s resulted in more colorful leotards appearing on the scene, most often in ballet and exercise.
By the 1980s, leotards had become common both as exercise and street wear, popularized by the aerobics fashion craze of the time. The leotards were a variety of nylon and spandex, mixed in with the more traditional cotton uni-colored leotards and tights, and frequently with a thong back. The dancewear company Danskin flourished during this period.
Leotards became less popular as exercise garments in the 1990s and have been mostly replaced by more convenient garments, such as T-shirts, crop tops and tights.

See also

leotards in Spanish: Leotardo
leotards in French: Justaucorps
leotards in Japanese: レオタード
leotards in German: Leotard
leotards in Swedish: Leotard
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