The Lycra Legacy of Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Bodily’

A humorous factor occurred when Kameron Lennox revisited the music video for “Bodily,” the 1981 pop megahit by Olivia Newton-John, who died on Monday.

For many of the video, Ms. Newton-John bounces round a gymnasium, coaching and terrorizing out-of-shape males whereas sporting a white leotard. In true Eighties style, that leotard was layered over magenta leggings and underneath a robin’s-egg blue shirt, cinched with a belt and accessorized with thick socks and a sweatband.

As a Hollywood costume designer making ready to work on the Apple TV+ aerobics dramedy additionally known as “Bodily,” starring Rose Byrne, Ms. Lennox noticed one thing she hadn’t observed when first watching the silly-sexy music video as a baby.

The white leotard was “bunching within the groin space,” stated Ms. Lennox, who questioned whether or not it was a leotard or one constructed from a big T-shirt. “The underside type of seems to be like a diaper. It seems to be very home made. It seems to be just like the fashions, truly, that had been about to occur.”

Because of the video, which coincided with the daybreak of MTV, “Bodily” is remembered as a type of anthem of the aerobics period — regardless of lyrics which can be actually extra about copulation than cardio. Ms. Newton-John’s ensemble, too, has change into a sartorial image of that period — regardless of the rudimentary building of the leotard, which “positively isn’t a exercise outfit,” stated Ms. Lennox, who ended up taking her costume design inspiration from lesser-known aerobics instructors like Bess Motta.

In that sense, the “Bodily” ensemble can also be an early instance of athleisure, a time period initially used to explain not train clothes however informal clothes that resembled train clothes.

As Ms. Newton-John defined in a video posted to her YouTube channel in December, the video “actually helped kick off the whole health and cardio craze of the time. It was the delivery of the ’80s headband style craze. I ought to have began a scarf and leg hotter firm or made health movies. Jane Fonda beat me to it.”

It’s true that nobody popularized aerobics and the ballet-inspired aesthetic of aerobics greater than Ms. Fonda, who opened a exercise studio in 1979 and revealed the best-selling “Jane Fonda’s Exercise E book” in 1981. However “Bodily” got here shut, taking an aerosol hairspray can to a health development — dance train — that was already poised to mild up the last decade. Not simply due to the dance-centric popular culture phenomena of the last decade (“Fame” in 1980, “Flashdance” in 1983,“Footloose” in 1984) however due to the re-emergence of a textile invented in 1958: Lycra, recognized generically as spandex.

Ms. Newton-John’s video “crystallized, in a brief couple of minutes in visible kind, what was taking place throughout tradition, manufacturing and shopper habits,” stated Sonnet Stanfill, senior curator of style on the Victoria and Albert Museum and editor of the 2013 guide “80s Vogue: From Membership to Catwalk.”

Within the Seventies, the textile business started utilizing Lycra — beforehand used as an alternative to rubber in girls’s girdles — to create wardrobes round train. And so girls attending courses or watching movies from Jazzercise or Jane Fonda had been uncovered to “a complete wardrobe they may purchase to really feel nice once they had been exercising,” Ms. Stanfill stated, citing leotards and tights in a spread of “almost-violent shade tones.” Operating bras had been invented and near a decade had handed since Title IX elevated the participation of ladies in sports activities — the choices felt limitless.

“The final quarter of the twentieth century within the U.S. was this sort of groundswell of celebrating the advantages of train and making a wardrobe to go together with that,” she stated. “Oftentimes adjustments in style are, notably for girls, linked to moments when sport has modified way of life.”

In excessive style, the designer Azzedine Alaïa was additionally utilizing stretchy supplies for his body-conscious designs — giving girls a brand new alternative to indicate off their toned our bodies, Ms. Stanfill continued.

Whereas the Eighties cardio aesthetic largely feels dated in the present day, sure parts of that period have briefly come again into style. Within the 2000s, earlier than the spectacular fall of American Attire’s founder, the corporate had reintroduced vibrant leotards and glossy leggings, with advertising that was extra ironic and grungy-sexy than energetic and silly-sexy.

But the usage of spandex by no means actually went away, readapting as fashionable yoga pants and leggings, then shapewear-as-outerwear. “The lasting legacy is that elasticated fiber that permits the physique to maneuver and might be fairly flattering and form-fitting in case you’re wanting to indicate off your determine,” Ms. Stanfill stated.

However as Ms. Lennox found whereas attempting to trace down Eighties leotards for the present “Bodily,” many of the Lycra of that period “didn’t stand the take a look at of time.” Nonetheless, the playful spirit of Ms. Newton-John’s “Bodily” continues to encourage clothes and tradition (as seen within the Apple TV+ collection or the 2020 Dua Lipa track, each of the identical identify).

When Outside Voices designed its first studio assortment in 2019, it was influenced by the leotard-over-leggings look (punctuated by ballet wraps and skirts) pioneered by Ms. Newton-John and Ms. Fonda, stated Ty Haney, the corporate’s founder and former chief govt.

However the inspiration went deeper: Outside Voices helped popularize athleisure within the 2010s by selling motion outdoors of conventional train, favoring “doing issues” (its tagline) over doing reps, blurring the traces between gymnasium spandex and gardening spandex. Does a leotard need to be a efficiency leotard, or can it’s one made for a wacky music video?

There was a “joyous perspective they delivered to shifting your physique,” Ms. Haney stated of Ms. Newton-John and Ms. Fonda. “Releasing health from efficiency!”

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