A leotard is a snug fitting exercise and performance garment that covers the body from the shoulders to the top of the thighs. A number of performers including dancers, ice skaters, acrobats, and other circus performers wear this garment. The 1980s were really the heyday of the leotard, coming in to pop culture through movies and dance trends, and were popular exercise wear during that time. The garment comes in a wide range of colors, and can be decorated for performances with contrasting colored panels, sequins, rhinestones, and other accents. In ballet performance, many dance companies wear standardized leotards, so that they do not distract the audience.
Many consumers have observed that a leotard resembles a one piece bathing suit, and it was in fact the inspiration for the modern garment. It was designed by Jules Léotard, a French trapeze artist who performed in the 1800s. During his lifetime, he called it a maillot, a French word which is now used to refer to a swimming suit. In the late 1800s, the term “leotard” began to replace “maillot,” in honor of the garment's inventor. The garments became popular for dancers in the 20th century, once they realized the potential for freedom of movement that the leotard allows.
Most performers do not wear a leotard alone. At a minimum, it will be worn with tights, but it is common to wear a tutu around the waist as well to obscure the groin area and upper thighs. For most performances, an armless one will be worn, although companies also manufacture them with half or full sleeves as well. In rehearsal, many dancers wear leg warmers with their leotards to prevent muscle cramping and soreness.
The elastic material in a leotard allows it to fit snugly to the form of the wearer. For this reason, care should be taken when maintaining the garments to keep the material stretchy and in good shape. Most come with care tags that will detail how they should be handled, but as a general rule, they should be hand washed if possible, or washed inside out on a gentle machine cycle on cold. In both cases, a leotard should be hung to dry, and if it is multi-colored, the pale colored sections should be hung above the dark ones to minimize color bleeding. If it has sequins, metallic threads, and other similar decorations, it should always be hand washed in cold water.