A leotard is a skin-tight one-piece garment that covers the torso but leaves the legs free. It was made famous by the French acrobatic performer Jules Léotard (1842–1870), about whom the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" was written.
Leotards are worn by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, figure skaters, athletes, actors, 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. As a casual garment, a leotard can be worn with a belt.
Leotards are entered through the neck, in contrast to 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 used for a variety of purposes, including yoga, cardiovascular exercise, dance (particularly ballet), as pajamas, for additional layered warmth under clothing, and for recreational and casual wear. They may form a part of children's dressing up and play outfits and can also be worn as a top.
Leotards are commonly worn in figure skating, modern dance, traditional ballet and gymnastics, especially by young children. Practice leotards are usually sleeveless. Female competition garments for gymnastics and skating are almost always long-sleeved, while male competition leotards may be sleeved or sleeveless, the latter more common in gymnastics.
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 is a general French word for different types of tight-fitting shirts or sports shirts . 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 one-piece swimsuits today still being similar in appearance to leotards.
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