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How to make the jumpsuit work for you

Gail Morgan / 19 April 2018 ( 23 April 2018 )

Find out how this all-in-one outfit can become your go-to garment for a variety of occasions.

A woman wears a bright yellow jumpsuit on holiday
Wondering how to make the jumpsuit work for you?

Ah, the jumpsuit. Does the word bring back memories from your youth?

From the utilitarian versions worn during the Second World War to the stunning examples modelled by glamorous Hollywood starlets in black and white 1930s films or the flared and psychedelic garments worn in 1970s discotheques, the jumpsuit is a garment that stands the test of time.

The history of the jumpsuit

The history of the jumpsuit goes back to 1919 when Thayaht (the pseudonym of designer and artist Ernesto Michahelles), designed a practical garment to be worn by parachutists. Hence the name – it’s literally a suit made for jumping (out of planes)!

The original creation was a simple T shaped garment with few seams that buttoned up the front. Thayaht was part of the Futuristic Movement and the jumpsuit has since been used consistently as the preferred form of dress in many sci-fi films, fiction and TV programmes, for example Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Logan's Run.

Over the years variations of these practical jumpsuits or boilersuits have been worn by racing drivers, skiers, factory workers (think about the ‘You Can Do It!’ wartime posters of Rosie the Riveter in her jumpsuit and polka dot headband), prisoners in orange, as well as plumbers and other manual workers. The appeal of this type of jumpsuit is that it is unisex and can cover a variety of body shapes and sizes; however, one style fits all doesn't necessarily mean one style suits all; in other words, it was never going to be the most flattering garment for most women.

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This is where fashion took the concept and transformed the humble jumpsuit into something more glamorous. Think back to the designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel in the 1920s and 1930s, creating feminine and elegant silk versions for summers on the South of France, or for Hollywood royalty to wear on and off screen.

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Jumpsuit wearing hit its peak in the 1970s, when various pop icons used the jumpsuit to enhance their stage presence – think Elvis in Vegas wearing white and rhinestones; David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust; Freddie Mercury; Mick Jagger; Diana Ross; Suzi Quattro; Debbie Harry and ABBA. Meanwhile, disco divas like Bianca Jagger were strutting their stuff wearing skin tight, flared jumpsuits at Studio 54.

The jumpsuit in the 1970s embodied attitude, confidence and style.

There have been other pop stars that have utilised the jumpsuit over the last 30 years – Prince, Madonna, the Spice Girls and Britney Spears (in unforgettable red vinyl).

2015 saw jumpsuits court controversy when US brand Nastygal took credit for a white jumpsuit Taylor Swift wore to the Billboard Music Awards, leading to their $49 version of it selling out on within hours – but the singer was actually wearing a Balmain jumpsuit worth $1,300.

The jumpsuits that are available to us today are not as outrageous, expensive, or (thankfully) as tight fitting as those seen on stage, but they can be sexy, glamorous and incredibly useful garments to invest in; you might find this all-in-one outfit becomes your go-to garment for a variety of occasions.

The jumpsuit in 2018

The jumpsuit is more or less the ultimate, one stop dressing solution and there are many variations available on the high street today. From wide legged to tapered leg, sleeves or sleeveless, plain or printed, jersey or silk – there is a jumpsuit for everyone and for every occasion.

I have two plain navy jumpsuits (one smart and one more casual) and I have worn my jumpsuits to weddings, to a conference, to formal functions, on a long haul flight, to restaurants and to many, many parties. I can change the look easily with different accessories – shoes, necklaces, scarves and jackets/cardigans.

As with all cyclical fashion, it is slightly different in each incarnation, so how do today’s modern jumpsuits match up to their previous relatives?

The current jumpsuit styles are generally waisted, or have a loose tie belt at the waist. If you don’t want to draw attention to your stomach then go for the looser option in a self-colour.

To find the best option for each body shape there are a few design details to be aware of.

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A jumpsuit for every body

Pear shape

This is you if you are smaller on the top and bigger on the bottom.

Look for belted or darted designs, higher necklines, shoulder interest and wide legged trousers. Be careful with side pockets as these can draw attention to your thighs and look for darker colours on the bottom.

Try: Boden's Clarissa jumpsuit, £140 in regular and petite.

Clarissa Jumpsuit - Boden


Inverted Triangles

This is you if you are bigger on the top with narrow hips.

Look for v-neck or wrap styles with slimmer legs. Avoid anything too fussy, loose or flouncy.

Try: Marks and Spencer's Pique Short Sleeve jumpsuit, £49.50

Pique Short Sleeve jumpsuit - Marks and Spencer


This is you if you are slim and straight up and down.

You can experiment! If you want to create more shape, look for shoulder details, pockets and tapering legs.


This is you if you are curvy all over with little waist definition.

Look for drapey fabrics, sleeves, loose ties at the waist and darker colours. Avoid contrasting colours around your waist.


This is you if you have a definite waist, broad hips and thighs that are balanced with your shoulders/bust.

Look for V-neck lines, waist definition and wider legged trousers.

Try: Phase Eight's sleeveless Tia jumpsuit, £99

Tia Sleeveless jumpsuit - Phase Eight


Jumpsuits can come in different lengths so if you are petite you will have options.

However look for plain or vertical stripes rather than larger florals as these patterns could overwhelm you and be wary of very wide legged trousers as these could swamp your tiny frame.

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The problems of wearing a jumpsuit

Before I go any further I do need to mention that the biggest drawback to wearing a jumpsuit is the toilet issue; the majority of jumpsuit designs will have you hurriedly stripping off to go to the toilet, therefore it is vitally important to consider how easy it will be to get undressed quickly, by yourself in a toilet cubicle.

So when shopping, consider if you can reach the zip, buttons or hooks and eyes. I have seen some styles that button or zip up the front, or more casual styles that can be stretched. My best advice when wearing a jumpsuit is to think ahead and start queuing for the toilet before you actually need to go!

Also worth bearing in mind is that the majority of jumpsuits won’t have full length sleeves – probably for the ease of getting undressed quickly (see above for why you might need to). However if you wish to cover your arms there are options with different sleeve lengths out there – and there are no rules that ban you from pairing a pretty cardi or jacket with your jumpsuit of choice!

Which jacket?

If you are looking to wear a jumpsuit to a wedding or a special occasion and you want to add a jacket I would advise a shorter length jacket or bolero.

This is especially true with the wider legged jumpsuits because the shorter length jacket allows the trouser fabric to flow better, avoids you being “swamped” and creating balance in the outfit. Another option would be to use a pashmina or wrap to cover your arms and shoulders.

If you want to wear your jumpsuit more casually then look at the jersey, cotton and patterned versions. These can then be worn with sandals, flip flops and short cardigans on holiday or at home.

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Are you a jumpsuit convert?

So if you have been browsing the shops and ignoring the jumpsuit - think again. 

There is a chicness to this garment which could be used on a city break or a cruise ship; the world is your oyster and you could wear it at least three or four times on holiday if you are limited to how much you can pack.

This really is the year to take the plunge and try a jumpsuit as there is so much choice in the shops.

The colours range from plain black and navy, through to various shades of red and lots of floral patterns.

Whether it is for a formal wedding or an alternative summer dress – a jumpsuit really can become one of the most versatile garments in your wardrobe.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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