Romper? Sunsuit? Playsuit? No matter what name you give it, this fun and sassy garment has been in fashion, in one form or another, since the 1930s. The form they take has changed, of course, but the idea is the same: a garment--or a multi-piece outfit--that enables the wearer to move easily, often with a strategic amount of skin exposed. Sometimes these were one piece, sometimes a pair of shorts with a top and/or jacket and/or removable skirt. (We'll explore jumpsuits, those with full legs, in another post.)
I can't really find anything definitive online that makes a clear demarcation between the words "playsuit," "sunsuit," or "romper," although in my own mind "romper" indicates a one-piece garment while "sunsuit" I have mostly seen associated with children's garments. So "playsuit" seems to cover the gamut: one-piece garments, flirty full shorts with halter tops, one-shoulder, swimsuit-styled pieces with a button-on, button-off skirt, and more. All of them are lovely!
One-piece, easily removed garments first appeared for babies and toddlers around the turn of the twentieth century--interestingly, they were first intended for little boys. From the Victorian period until the 1930s, children generally dressed as little adults, so these garments allowed freedom of movement for little ones as they played outdoors; they were generally made from cotton, too, so they were easily laundered in a period when laundry was often an all-day affair (ugh).
As women's clothing became less restrictive in the 1920s--good-bye, corsets!--and with the advent of more leisure time activities such as tennis and golf becoming popular, these not-quite-swimsuits appeared, made popular by Hollywood starlets beginning in the 1930s. Think Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, or any number of publicity shots of ingenues (click here to see a panoply of lovely ladies in divine playsuits).
(Images are all from magazines in my own collection.)
These playsuits are generally made out of the same materials as other clothing--cotton, rayon, etc. It's interesting to note that swimsuits (referring now to the garments we more or less recognize as such, which began to appear in the 1930s for the general public) were made from ribbed knitted wool, pioneered by the Portland Knitting Company; this company evolved into Jantzen, named after one of its founders. Wool, however, is quite heavy when saturated--sometimes these suits weighed more than 8 pounds when wet. Man-made fibers were rapidly developed during the 1940s that allowed for lighter-weight, stretchier fabric--but that's for another post!
Technically, some of the patterns shown below MIGHT be swimsuits, but the boundaries definitely blur...whether one piece, two, with skirt or without, one shoulder or halter...they are all lovely!
Now, let's look at some playsuit/romper/sunsuit goodness from members of the Pattern Patter team, shall we?
(As always, clicking on the image will enlarge it.)
Top row, left to right: Advance 8313: PinkPolkaDotButton
Second row: Butterick 8212: redcurlz
Third row: McCall’s 3669: sewbettyanddot
Fourth row: McCall 9766: Denisecraft
Left to right: Simplicity 2120: JFerrariDesigns
And some cutie-pie patterns to make playsuits for the little ones! Note the Butterick Betsey Johnson sunsuit, top row, second from left, and note that Butterick 2322 (fourth row, second from left), has an identical sunsuit pattern for a child's doll. Cute!
Top row, left to right: Advance 4927: patternshop
Second row: McCall 5561: anne8865
Third row: McCall’s 7892: SerendipityUnlimited
Fourth row: Advance 3898: FriskyScissors
And finally, I leave you with this:
Perhaps there is a reason there is a dearth of men's "playsuits"? (There actually were cabana outfits--matching shirts and swim trunks...but one-piece suits are scarce...)
Which playsuit/romper/sunsuit would YOU don for a day in the sun? Tell us in the comments!