Think of a dancer… Chances are you're picturing someone wearing a dance leotard. That's because, even though other types of notable dancewear (including tutus skirts, tap shoes and ballet slippers) are worn by many dancers, the most iconic piece of dancewear is the one worn by nearly everyone. And that is a leotard, for sure.
At Inspirations, we get a lot of questions about leotards from our customers, and we've got the answers. Whether you're shopping for a comfortable leotard for your child's first ballet class, or, you're a dancer in search of the perfect style for a upcoming performance, here's everything you need to know.
What is a dance leotard?
From the oxford dictionary:
A close-fitting one-piece garment, made of a stretchy fabric, that covers a person's body from the shoulders to the top of the thighs and typically the arms, worn by dancers or people exercising indoors.
Types of dance leotards
When you're shopping for a new leotard, you'll be surprised at the number of style options there are to choose from. It's best to have some idea for what type of bodysuit you'll be needing before you start shopping, beginning with the intended use: is it for meant for practice or performance?
Fashion style + fabric function
In addition to looking great, you'll need your leotard to fit and and be comfortable to wear. And after hundreds of years of leotard innovation for both fashion and function, it turns out there's a lot to learn about this seemingly simple product.
We thought we'd help break down the unique differentiators that make one leotard different from another, so you can better understand and express exactly what it is you're looking for. This'll be useful when you're talking to the staff while shopping at a dance store.
Leotard styles are sleeve styles
Of all the variations that make each leotard unique, the most important one is the type of sleeve. When talking about a style of leotard, shoppers are most often referring to the cut of the sleeves. Sleeve options vary from a long sleeve which is the full length of the arm, to multiple leotards with no sleeves, which is where we'll start.
Camisole leotards, also referred to as "cami leotards', are our best selling bodysuits. The camisole leotard is a sleeveless leotard, with a scooped neck and thin shoulder straps.
The tank leotard, also referred to as the "tank top leotard," is also a sleeveless bodysuit, similar to the camisole leotard. However the straps are wider than a cami, resembling a tank top.
The halter leotard is another sleeveless leotard, but instead of shoulder straps that attach to the back of the leotard, as they do on the cami and tank, the straps of the halter leotard wrap around the neck of the dancer.
Cap sleeve leotard
A cap sleeve leotard is a still a sleeveless leotard. It has thick straps, similar to the tank leotard. However the cut of the straps includes the beginning of the where a sleeve would start, and covers the very top of the arm. It's less like a sleeve and more of a cap for the shoulder. Hence the name 'cap sleeve'.
Short sleeve leotard
A leotard with short sleeves, d'uh! Generally a short sleeve leotard has a scooped neck, but not always.
Long sleeve leotard
A leotard with long sleeves is often worn by dance students during their winter season for functional reason: to keep muscles warm. But long sleeve leotards are equally a popular fashion choice for stage performance, because they off the appearance of an elongated upper body silhouette. The long sleeves are full length to the wrists, and may include additional elasticized cuffs or lycra to prevent the leotard sleeves from riding up the arms.
3/4 sleeve leotard
A 3/4 sleeve leotard offers a compromise between a shortsleeved leotard or one with long sleeves, so arms are still covered, but just to the forearm.
Neckline options for leotards
A bodysuit's sleeve and neckline are independent of one another. So once you've chosen the sleeve type you're shopping for from the list above, it's time to consider the cut of the neck for your leotard.
Scooped neck leotards
This leotard style features a neckline that scoops down in an elegant, rounded neckline with an even curve from shoulder to shoulder.
Boat neck leotard
The boat neck leotard also has a rounded neckline, similar to the scooped neck leotard, but covers the shoulders.
Mock neck leotard
The mock neck leotard has a square or scoop-shaped neckline that covers the shoulders, but does not dip below them.
A turtleneck leotard covers to the neck and also includes a cuff around neck.
The neckline is shaped into the letter 'V' in front.
Sweetheart neck leotard
Similar to the v-neck leotard, but the sweetheart neckline has a curve instead of a straight line coming into the corner of the "V", similar to the top of a Valentine's Day heart shape.
The pinched-front leotard has ruching in the front, just below the neckline, and is sometimes adjustable. This creates some shape and deepens the neckline.
The neckline of this leotard dips either left or right from the shoulder area so that the two sides of the neckline are not even. An asymmetrical leotard is often called an "off-the-shoulder" leotard.
Fabric Options for Leotards
This ain't your mama's dancewear! The new stretch fabric materials in the leotards available from dance retail stores are the result of decades of continued fabric innovation and experimentation.
Manufacturers blend fabrics selections to develop the best and most comfortable material for a particular collection of dance products. Each dancewear brand (Capezio, Bloch, So Danca etc.), will create a formula of blended fabrics to best match its intended use. So if the bodysuit needs to be more of a supportive garment, the manufacturer will choose a material blend with holding power and stretch. While another fabric might need to be super thin and comfortable, for example a bodystocking, but doesn't need to offer the extra support. These materials might both seem to both be lightweight stretch fabrics, but are fundamentally different to the dancer wearing them, which is why it is important for you to choose reputable dance brands.
Microfibre is a very fine synthetic yarn, and is the most popular style of fabric used for dance leotards. "Microfibre" is a general term for multiple brands names of this type of fabric technology used in dancewear. One such brand is Tencel for example.
The most unique feature of microfibre, and what you'll love most about it, is that it is a wicking fabric. Wicking means that it draws moisture away from the body. The ability to keep skin dry prevents chafing, and also allows dancers to keep their muscles warmer while waiting between dances, because they are not standing round in damp clothing.
Lycra is generally a shiny fabric. (Although there are also matte lycras that will have a brushed suede look, but items made from matte lycra resemble a bathing suit more than dance fashion.) Shiny lycra dancewear was popular in the 1980's, but now lycra is blended into almost all stretch fabrics. Once lycra is united with another material, the blend takes on new and unique properties.
Cotton lycra leotards
Cotton lycra is a mixture of lycra and cotton which feels comfortable like a cotton tee shirt on the skin, but is super stretchy. A lot of young dancers like to wear cotton lycra for their dancewear because the feel of cotton is familiar to them, and it isn't slippery. Parents like the idea of cotton for dance because it's a more natural fabric against their children's skin.
Nylon is just another name for a kind of lycra. Nylon lycra tends to have less of a sheen to it, so it's the duller version of dancewear fabrics that stretch. It's also the less technical version of a stretch fabric than say a Tencel microfibre lycra.
Spandex is the predecessor to lycra. The word is still used, but when people say spandex dancewear they're usually just looking for an item that has stretchy fabric.
Polyester is a synthetic fabric, rather than fabric derived from plants. All of the types of dancewear above are made using polyester.
Other Leotard Options
Once you know your sleeves, necklines and fabrics, all that's left are the small but important details that make up the look of the bodysuit. Colours start with the obvious black and pink, but then move into shades of blue, skin tones and virtually every other colour you can think of, including iridescent and metallic stretch fabrics. Many bodysuit styles include combinations of different fabrics, and some have mesh cutaways or lace details. The backs of leotards also play a role in the style, including solid, keyhole, mesh, low-cut and strappy.
Now that you know how to talk about the cut and bodysuit fabrics, you're sure to find exactly what you want in your search for your next leotard.