My first encounter with a romper occurred in early spring of 2010. It was getting warmer and the transition from spring to summer was just on the horizon. This meant it was time for one of my favorite traditions: summer dress shopping. The summer dress isn’t just an exciting opportunity to buy new clothes—it was promise of that the best parts of summer—lounging at the pool, summer concerts, outdoor seating at restaurants—were on their way. So you can imagine my disappointment when I excitedly pulled cute dress after cute dress off the racks only to find that instead of the expected skirt bottom, they had a pair of shorts attached!
A romper (also known as a “playsuit” or “jumper”) is essentially a top and bottom combined into one piece of clothing, or as dictionary.com defines it, “A loosely fitted, one-piece garment having short bloomers.” In 2009 and 2010, I witnessed the romper’s descent from avant-garde high fashion to hipsters at Coachella to celebrities and finally, to my dismay, into mainstream fashion. At first, I hated rompers. But I knew it was only a matter of time before general exposure and the dictates of fashion convinced me that it was an acceptable, and even attractive, article of clothing.
Almost every fashion trend is a recycled and updated version of the fashion that came years before it, but the romper seemed particularly obscure. That’s because the rompers that sprinkle the pages of today’s fashion magazines were inspired not by the fashion of the past five decades, but from the unisex causal wear of toddlers from the early 20th century. Rompers were designed for children to play in. A 1904 New York Times article advertises rompers as “pinaforelike garments” that the “children can play in the dust…and still keep fresh and clean.” A 1912 advert for the department store Joseph Horne tells moms to dress their children in rompers and “let them scramble over the turf and dig in the sand” and even claims rompers are “recommended by physicians as the ideal garment” in “which, little folks, from one to eight years, feel, look and grow best.” Say what you will about grown women desiring to look like scantily-clad toddlers from the early 1900s, but you have to admit whoever came up with the idea to bring rompers back into fashion was pretty creative.
Last summer, I felt my judgmental take on rompers turn to fondness, but I resisted the temptation of giving into the trend and to this day I do not own a romper. I reminded myself that I would look back on this transgression years later, and wonder, “What was I thinking?” But as summer 2011 looms ahead, it seems rompers have come back full-force and time has weakened my defenses. Once again, I will have to decide to romper, or not to romper.