You can wear a catsuit without catty comments


Catsuits cause comments.

Sometimes they're compliments. More often they're catcalls derisive references to thunder thighs, hippo hips and the urgent need for liposuction. Meow, meow. (Could this be why they're called catsuits?)

The fact of the matter is, unless a woman is shaped like Cher, a clingy, one-piece catsuit is not the kindest cut of all.

So why did so many designers include catsuits (a.k.a. bodysuits or unitards) in their fall collections? And why are so many stores stocking them?

Of course, designers fit their creations on models, lithe, leggy women who look sensational in sleek, second-skin garments. On perfect bodies, catsuits do have a racy, modern minimalism that's hard to resist. They also provide a smooth, seamless foundation for showing off skirts, coats and jackets on the runway.

But on the street? At the office? In the bathroom?

Did those designers ever stop to consider what a woman must go through when nature calls and she's wearing a jacket over a skirt over a catsuit?

But that's designers for you: creative, but not always practical. It's their job to dream up new looks, not wear them.

Not that catsuits are all that new. And anyone who remembers go-go boots, hot pants and hip-huggers also will recall the original catsuits. Even the "catsuit" name has been resurrected from the '60s. It's sexier and more descriptive than "unitard," the rather clinical-sounding term that New York designer Donna Karan uses to describe the one-piece garments that have been the basis of her collections for the past five or six years.

Do the stores - the buyers and salespeople who are in contact with female customers really think women will purchase garments that offer absolutely no place to hide?

They do. And apparently they're right.

Retailers report that young women are snapping up the slinky suits. So are some older women, particularly those who are regulars at the gym. It's no big stretch from workout leotard to catsuit.

But it's not so much what you put into the suit, but what you put over it.

Catsuit cover-ups could include:

* A wide, ornate belt slung low on the hips.

B An oversized scarf or shawl worn as a fanny wrap.

* A short skirt.

* A long skirt with a side slit or front buttons that can be left undone at least up to the knees. (No point wearing a catsuit if you're going to cover it completely.)

* A see-through lace tunic or sheer, chiffon skirt that makes the catsuit seem more illusion than reality.

* A vest.

* An oversized, V-neck sweater.

* A jacket.

* An anorak or short, swingy coat.

By changing the toppings, a basic catsuit can look casual, smart or dressy.

With a shawl or sweater, it can go to the grocery store, the movies, a football game or a casual restaurant. With a long jacket, it wouldn't look out of place at the office. And under a lace tunic or beaded bolero, it would be fancy enough for a night on the town.

There are some cool catsuits around sleeveless, one-piece jumpers designed to be worn over a bare bandeaus or lightweight blouses. But most styles have you covered, from neck to wrists to ankles. If the room gets crowded, the air-conditioner breaks down or the sun breaks out, you have one choice: Sweat or shed.

As the holiday season approaches, the early fall crop of plain, cotton-spandex catsuits will be replaced with styles in stretch velvet and lace, trimmed with beads and rhinestones, or embellished all over with sequins.

Many of these dressy catsuits will skim the body, rather than cling to it. "They'll be easier to wear than the real skintight styles," Blackwelder said.

If you like the catsuit look but don't have a catlike body, there is a comfortable, flattering, less extreme alternative:

Try pairing a turtleneck sweater or legless bodysuit with leggings, stirrup pants or straight-leg trousers, all in the same, solid color. Then add a big top, ankle boots and cat-eye glasses.


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