The Leotard

Jules Léotard, 1838-1870

French acrobat Jules Léotard developed the art of trapeze when he first performed a three bar aerial performance on November 12, 1859. He wore a one-piece jersey garment for his trapeze performances that was called a maillot during his time, but that now bears his name. Jules Léotard was immortalized by George Laybourne as the subject of his 1867 popular song, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. Leotard died in 1870 from smallpox. ‘Leotard’ entered the English vocabulary in 1886. The earlier term maillot became the French word for a one piece bathing suit.

Left: woman in leotard, c. 1885


About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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