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The Jumpsuit: Fashion’s New Moneymaker

How a “tricky” garment became a wardrobe staple -- and a sales booster for brands.

Plenty of trends emerged during resort season, from paper-bag waists to polka dots, but none so dominant as the jumpsuit. Nearly every designer — regardless of aesthetic, or how much his or her clothes typically cost — presented a version. 

That's because the jumpsuit phenomenon has as much to do with customer demand as it does with what a designer was "feeling" this season. Global Google searches for “jumpsuits” have risen steadily over the past three years, with a peak at the beginning of each summer:

Since January 2014, online shopping community Wanelo says that users have searched for jumpsuits about 7,400 times each month, and 400 times each day, on its mobile app. (Wanelo’s traffic is 85 percent mobile.) More than 7,000 products appear in search results for jumpsuits. The romper — a short-leg version of a jumpsuit — is even more popular, averaging 70,840 searches per month and 2,200 per day through the mobile app.

And perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence: Net-a-Porter now has an entire “jumpsuits” category on its drop-down menu.

So how did the jumpsuits get so big? Before 2011, wearing a one-piece was left to outré dressers and cell mates. The last time this look was popular with the masses was in the 1970s, when flamboyant dressing was de rigueur. The renewed interest in the silhouette has opened up a whole new category from which designers can experiment, but also profit. 

Los Angeles-based contemporary designer Trina Turk -- known for her spin on mid-century fashions -- says that three years after introducing her first jumpsuit, one-pieces make up 11 percent of her ready-to-wear sales. “Since the beginning, we’ve always done well with jumpsuits, even during the holiday season,” Turk says. “And they perform in warmer months when we offer them in shorter silhouettes and lighter weight fabrics.” (This summer’s runaway hit is the sporty “Yasmine”, $288, available in navy and white.)

But Turk’s brand ethos is rooted in the era when jumpsuits were first embraced. The silhouette — a top and a pant that are connected at the waist — was, for a long time, thought difficult to pull off. Unlike a blouse and trousers, very little adjusting is possible. A dress, of course, is the easiest to wear because different silhouettes hide different “trouble” areas. With jumpsuits, there's literally less room to hide.

“It's important to choose the right cuts for your body shape,” says Krystle Kemp, fashion director at the Richmond, Va.-based Need Supply. On the other hand, modern jumpsuits and rompers, unlike their spandex predecessors, tend to be looser fitting-- more like pajamas than a lycra Studio 54 get-up. “I think the whole sport-comfort vibe that's going on right now probably feeds the popularity,” adds Kemp, who says Finders Keepers’s navy “Strange Fire” jumpsuit, $140, has been a top seller.

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Eleanor Strauss, Shopbop’s New York-based fashion director, agrees. “Fashion has definitely taken a simpler route recently, so I think there's an appeal to wearing an easy-chic one-piece with a simple pair of sneakers and some great accessories,” she says. And for a woman who prefers to be a bit more dressed? “You can dress it down with slip on sneakers or up with heels and a tux blazer. The look can really take you from day to night seamlessly.” While Shopbop won’t reveal bestsellers, Strauss cites the “Katie” cut-out version from One by Hunter Bell as a favorite. (It’s $253.50 and available in orange, black and white.) “We see our girl trying a variety of styles.”

Video: A hilarious depiction of the benefits of a one-piece.

A.L.C.’s Andrea Lieberman, who has been designing one-pieces since she launched her first collection in 2009, believes that jumpsuits make the subtle statement her customer loves. “There is an added confidence that comes with [wearing one],” says the Los Angeles-based designer. “It’s a chic alternative to a dress.” Lieberman’s big push for pre-fall is the $695 Olive, which comes in navy. (It should be noted that navy jumpsuits are almost as big of a story as jumpsuits themselves. The color is a softer alternative to bold, sometimes harsh, black.)

Fleur du Mal's Jennifer Zuccarini, whose ready-to-wear collection is influenced by her lingerie designs, says that the silhouette can also be sexier than a dress. “It elongates your body,” says the New York-based designer. “Sometimes it’s sexier to leave more to the imagination.” Zuccarini estimates that for fall, 10-15 percent of sales will be jumpsuits. Her wide-leg georgette version has been a big hit with buyers. “The legs are slightly sheer and they have a short lining with a lace trim, so that in the light you can see a peek of what’s underneath.” Customers have also embraced the ruffle jumpsuit in mint, which is currently for sale on Fleur du Mal’s e-commerce site for $825.

And it’s not just contemporary brands benefiting from the jumpsuit jump. Zuhair Murad, maker of red carpet and special event gowns, first noticed demand in 2011 when he designed one for Jennifer Lopez’s "On the Floor" video. Since then, Kristen Stewart and Diane Kruger have both worn the designer’s one-pieces on the red carpet. “We tend to do just as well with our ready-to-wear jumpsuits as we do with our fully beaded couture jumpsuits - both sell out every season,” says Murad, who is based in Beirut and Paris. A jumpsuit with no beading can cost upward of $3,000, while an embellished, couture-style look will usually ring in at well over $10,000. 

So is the jumpsuit really the new dress? A staple that every woman needs in her closet? It’ll take a few more years for that to be clear. But here's what is clear: designers are selling a whole new category that took very little extra effort to develop and distribute. For now, they’re smart to milk its popularity. 

Click through to shop 15 of the summer's best one-pieces, many of which are already on sale: