Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Well, onstage at least. Over the past decade, virtually every major female pop star’s performance wardrobe has included a wide array of leg-baring leotards. Beginning around 2006, the revealing garment helped musicians both burgeoning (Lady Gaga, Ke$ha) and already-famous (Jennifer Lopez, Madonna) to establish stage presence. Fast-forward to 2016, and the biggest superstar of them all, Beyoncé, has a tour wardrobe comprised almost exclusively of designer-created bodysuits.
On the precise power of the silhouette, Anne T. Donahue writes in an essay for MTV, "The lack of pants we’re seeing is less a look than it is a statement: It’s the rejection of norms, an act of self-love, a call for attention. Onesies and leotards are the de facto battle garb for pop’s biggest female stars; they are free from pants." Feminist act, utilitarian dancing garment, or simply a way to say, "Hey, I’ve got legs!", leotards and bodysuits have been one of pop’s few constants over the last decade.
A note on the difference between "leotard" and "bodysuit," by the way: While essentially the same thing (a garment that covers the torso and crotch, for lack of a better term), "leotard" is most often associated with dancewear, while "bodysuit" more with the shapewear popularized by Donna Karen and Azzedine Alaïa in the 1990s.
But it's "bodysuit" that ultimately won out. According to Google Trends, October 2015 was the first time searches for "bodysuit" overpowered searches for "leotard" over the past ten years, and since then, that gap has widened drastically. Consider the following chart:
It’s hard to say why that is, exactly, but since both terms essentially mean the same thing, for our purposes, we’re going to use them interchangeably. Don’t think too hard about it.
Regardless, the question remains: Have we already reached, and therefore surpassed, peak bodysuit? While Bey is certainly embracing them for at least the remainder of her Formation tour, her fashion-forward pop star peers like Rihanna and Lady Gaga appear to have given them up in favor of a wider diversity of silhouettes. Before we can say for sure, a look back on leotards past.
Are you sick of looking at legs yet? Good news, you’re done! If you follow the timeline closely, you’ll notice a few things. First, that pop stars generally embrace the bodysuit later on in their careers, as opposed to when they begin (with the notable exceptions of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, arguably the most fashionably adventurous pop stars included here).
Second, that in the exact same time span, the popularity of the bodysuit onstage has had a direct impact on everyday fashion. Search "bodysuit" and you’ll find tons of trendy pieces, designed to be worn either over pants, a skirt, or even a see-through skirt — a favorite of celebrities on the red carpet. Plus, what’s this summer’s one-piece swimsuit resurgence other than a nod to the leotards worn by Bey and Selena?
Finally, a question: What will replace the bodysuit? To answer it, we must defer to the pop mega-stars of tomorrow. What are up-and-coming stars like Grimes, FKA twigs, Internet teen phenom That Poppy, or K-pop group 4Minute wearing? And while their styles may differ widely now, will they lead the way for a new pop-star standard, perhaps this time one that’s all about showcasing one's arms? Time will tell.