Trends in activewear have revolved around the ‘90s athleisure, off-duty Princess Diana aesthetic for some time now. But lately, a new kid on the block has been creeping into our feeds, teasing the return of glorious ‘80s Jane Fonda-esque workout ‘fits. Think thick tube socks, bold-hued leggings and, a particular item that’s on the cusp of exploding: the unitard. Defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a tight-fitting one-piece garment of stretchable fabric which covers the body from the neck to the knees or feet,” unitards are the overalls of the activewear family — and as such, present the same potential pros and cons.
To explore how much functionality this trend has in 2021, I decided to volunteer my time (and patience) to the cause, nobly spending an entire day in one to see if it’s worthy of revival, or if it’s just another hyped-up fad. Read on for the verdict.
It began where all great adventures do: indoors. I held the shrunken one-piece in front of my body and lamented that there was no way it would fit — in any flattering or comfortable way, anyway. But pulling at it and seeing how far and wide it would stretch was encouraging.
Something I hadn’t thought of before this moment was that there would be a right and a wrong kind of undergarment for the unitard. While most unitards are made of thicker, activewear fabric, they're definitely not immune to seams so I decided for a more seamless pair of underwear, and went sans bra, initially.
I had opted for a sustainable option to try by Californian label Lacausa. According to local stockist the CUT store's website, the item is a “short stretch unitard with spaghetti straps and open back, made from organic cotton spandex for ultimate stretch and buttery softness to support you while you move.”
I slipped into it with relative ease and spun around in front of a mirror, pleasantly surprised at how smooth the stretch was, almost like shapewear but without the discomfort. My shape is on the boney side, so I thought something this figure-hugging would make me look gangly, but it didn't — at least in my humble opinion.
This will change from person to person, but I was also thrilled at the lack of camel toe that I foresaw as a potential issue. The first concern I did not foresee, though, was that I wasn’t wearing a bra and it was very obvious, particularly since it was a brisk day. I'm not so blessed in the chest department so this wasn't a huge issue, but those with more to support will definitely require a sports bra underneath for exercising.
I walked outside to get a coffee as a bit of a test run and got some noticeable stares from neighbours while I waited. I felt rather exposed around everyone else, and I was freezing my nips off.
Nevertheless, I persisted. My first proper outing for the day was a stroll down to a very busy local park. It was sunny but still chilly, so I threw a sweatshirt on at first to endure the winds.
By the time I had walked a fair bit and was warming up, I got a bit nervous about revealing my unitard to the world. Despite runner after runner zooming past in their snug bike shorts and sports bras, not giving a flying crap about what anyone was looking at, I still felt a twinge of hesitancy about my one-piece. Maybe it was the backless component, or maybe it was that no one else was wearing anything remotely similar, but it felt a little risqué.
I managed to talk myself out of the initial nerves, telling myself that I hadn't experienced wedgie-ing thus far, and would probably be safe to duck to a bathroom would one rise up. I leaned into my newfound ease of movement. When walking, the unitard felt cosy and liberating all at once, in a way that my usual activewear didn't compare. There was an element of security to it that felt like a hug.
It was not long after, though, that I stumbled upon the first problem: bathroom breaks. Now, I saw this coming from a mile away and had mentally prepared myself for the logistics of this moment. I thought I'd be fine, given that I love a one-piece swimsuit in summer, but when it came down to it, I can’t say I loved the experience. I had worked up a sweat, but not enough to make what came next enjoyable. I bore it and did what I had to, thinking Wim Hof thoughts. (Honestly, I think I’ll just wait until I get home next time but it felt wrong to not give it a go for review purposes.)
Now that my public experimenting was done, I went home for some light stretching, and to see how the unitard performed for other exercises.
Now, I’m not the kind of housemate who usually does yoga in the communal living room — in fact, I’m not the kind who does yoga at all —but we all need a lockdown hobby and my room is more cramped than usual thanks to my inability to complete the decluttering I started some weeks ago.
I got on my mat and put on a YouTube channel, following along as best I could. This is where my new friend shone. I’m not the most flexible person but unencumbered by tight fabrics, the unitard felt like a second skin.
Next up was some skipping — the kind with the rope! It's one of the few home gym equipment pieces I own and it's definitely not a very forgiving activity when it comes to attire. For this, I put on a sports bra underneath the unitard and actually kind of liked the layered look. After a quick session (just about all I could muster up the energy for at this point) all I have to say is that you haven’t lived until you’ve jumped rope in a unitard.
I ended up lounging around in my unitard long after all the exercise — something I wouldn't do in my other exercise gear since they're more restrictive than my sweats. After gorging on some carbs, I thought I'd want to strip myself of anything tight, but the unitard made way for my post-lunch belly. In fact, hours later, I still didn't really want to take the thing off.
Overall? I am completely and irrevocably a unitard convert. Even to wear under a sweatshirt instead of the usual sports top and shorts/leggings, I felt a bit unstoppable given I didn't need to adjust myself once(!) or move around my crop top when stretching so that nothing was pinching or pulling at my skin.
It needs to be said that not everyone will feel comfortable in a unitard. There are plenty of valid concerns about wearing one, and those with bigger busts will definitely want to wear a supportive sports bra underneath. But after about 12 hours spent in one, wedgie-free and not missing waistbands at all, I implore you to give one a red hot go.