The Year of the Jumpsuit

For me, 2018 has been the year of the jumpsuit. In January I acquired two, and have worn one or the other nearly every day. (I’m wearing one as I write this! I even got one for my husband.)

I hadn’t processed my affinity for these gender-neutral, utilitarian coveralls until I read Heather Radke‘s essay for The Paris Review about JUMPSUIT, a political art project by The Rational Dress Society’s Abigail Glaum-Lathbury and Maura Brewer.

Glaum-Lathbury and Brewer aim to call attention to the ills of late capitalism — and to “make America rational again” — by manufacturing non-gendered, nearly shapeless jumpsuits, and encouraging people to wear them to the exclusion of all other attire.

In reporting on the project, Radke spends three weeks in a jumpsuit, and finds a surprising freedom in this particular fashion — or, anti-fashion — dictum. I relate completely.

The next morning, as I walk to work, I realize that it’s the first time in years, maybe decades, that I am wearing such loose-fitting clothing in public. Sure, I’ll wear a baggy sweater or a swing dress, but there is always a bit of Lycra or a constricting band in there somewhere — a pair of tights or skinny jeans, a too-tight sleeve or an uncomfortable armpit. Abigail and Maura tell me that clothing companies make everything tight and stretchy so they can make fewer sizes — it’s cheaper to cut three sizes than six.

As I walk up the stairs to my office, no fabric grips my skin, and I feel unencumbered. Although I have been worried about how I look, the truth is I’ve never felt less fat. The garment does not constantly remind me of my girth; it does not threaten to bust at the seams if I move too quickly or eat too much. I’m not just thwarting the tyranny of capitalism — I’m thwarting the tyranny of tightness.

Several women compliment me on the first day — “I love your coveralls!” one coworker shouts casually across the room. Two others tell me that while they think I look great, the garment would never work on their body. It’s a constant refrain I’ll hear during my time in the jumpsuit. We all seem to think our bodies are impossible — too fat or thin, too long a torso or too thick a waist — to be accommodated.

Not choosing an outfit really does save time. But more than time, it saves a kind of emotional labor that I hadn’t realized I was doing. I spent so much time wondering, What should I wear? The answer seemed to lie in discerning what other people would expect, how I could impress them, what would look cool. But after a beat of contemplation, I’d remember I already knew what I was going to wear. I was going to wear a jumpsuit. I could move on to other things. I began to sleep in a little later. I actually sat down to eat breakfast and got some reading in before heading off to work. But the real freedom came from not starting every day thinking about all the problems with my body or my wardrobe.

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