Essay: Jumpsuit

by Alistair O'Neill on 23 July 2008

Fashion Historian Alistair O'Neill on the jumpsuit’s political origins.

Fashion Historian Alistair O'Neill on the jumpsuit’s political origins.

Italian Futurist Artist Thayaht in his own design - the ‘TuTa’

At a time when the jumpsuit seems to be approaching some kind of critical mass as a passable garment for fashion-conscious men (offered by the likes of Prada, Alexander McQueen and A.P.C.) it is, perhaps, worth returning to its origins as a manifesto printed as a paper pattern.

On 19th June 1920 the Florentine newspaper La Nazione published an illustrated article of a universal garment, the TuTa, designed by futurist artist and designer Thayaht (pseudonym of Ernesto Michahelles). Inspired by the overalls he had and designed and made for his own working wardrobe, the ‘one piece straight line garment for men and boys’ was the TuTa after the Italian word for all, ‘tutta’, which the artist then subtracted a single ‘t’ from in order to make it reappear, symbolically, as the shape of the garment itself.

The economy of the garment, cut from 4.5m of 70cm wide cloth with minimal material wastage , simple seams and only seven buttons, belied the complexity of its modernist polemic. While the manifesto blessed the ECONOMY OF FABRIC CONSUMPTION, ECONOMY OF EFFORT, ECONOMY OF TIME and ECONOMY OF ENERGY, Thayaht preferred a TuTa made from African cotton or hemp worn with a Robespierre-collared white shirt and ‘Forte dei Marmi’ leather sandals, an outfit which resists, even in descriptive terms, the political notion of economy supposedly rationalised in the design of the garment.

Such a sartorial form of contradiction calls to mind Winston Churchill’s siren suit, a ‘one-piece zip-up suit’ he designed for practicality with his shirt makers, Turnbull & Asser, in the late 1930s to allow him to dress quickly and respectably for the War Cabinet. A surviving example at the Churchill museum in a claret velvet, once worn with Oxford brogues and a silk cravat, is remarkably at odds with the speech he made to the nation whilst wearing one, where ‘death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment.’ Faced with the prospect of utility clothing as a measure for clothes and textile rationing, Churchill suggested the idea of using his siren suit as the model for civilian uniform. The Board of Trade declined to comment.

So before plumping for Adam Kimmel’s all-in-one this season, remember that some jumpsuits are more equal than others.



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