As an item of dress, the word "jumper" has referred to various garments at different points in history and in diverse sectors of society. For example, in the United States, a jumper has been a loose jacket, a sailor's overshirt, or middy blouse, a child's garment or coverall with straight-legged pants, a hooded fur jacket, or a sleeveless one-piece dress usually worn over some type of upper garment. A British jumper is a pullover sweater, and the British refer to a U.S. jumper as a pinafore dress, a pinafore, or a "pinny."
In mid- to late twentieth-century American English, a jumper is a woman's or girl's one-piece, sleeveless, dress-length garment with a low round, V, or square neckline designed to wear over a blouse, sweater, or shirt. Specific styles are described by adjectives such as "bib jumper," styled with a biblike front inspired by bib over-alls, or "horseshoe jumper" referring to the low horseshoe neckline in front and back.
The origin of the word is unclear especially since "jumper" refers to many different garments. It may have come from mid-nineteenth-century English dialect "jump," meaning short coat; from Old French juppe, or Modern French jupe, meaning skirt; from Spanish aljuba, a Moorish garment; from Arabic jubba, a long garment with wide open sleeves, or jabba, to cut.
The evolution of the garment is also unclear. Historically, the jumper may have evolved from the fourteenth-century woman's sideless surcote that was worn over a gown with tight-fitting long sleeves. The sideless surcote had a low neckline, giving the illusion of shoulder straps and deep oval armholes extending to the hips, so the tunic worn beneath could be seen. By the early fifteenth century, when other styles replaced it, the sideless gown identified the wearer as a French queen or princess.
References to jumpers in the early twentieth century often meant a two-piece dress with a long middy-style top designed for sports, a dramatic change in sportswear for women. Jean Patou, Paul Poiret, and Coco Chanel were leaders in replacing cumbersome garments with practical and convenient clothing for sports. Patou dressed Suzanne Lenglen, the 1920s champion tennis player, in his hallmark short skirts and sleeveless long-waisted jumper blouses. Her athletic youthfulness captured the imagination of the fashion conscious (Lee-Potter), although it is unknown if this look was a predecessor to the American jumper.
While the jumper has not been at the forefront of fashion, its form has followed fashionable silhouettes such as the body skimming chemise or an exaggerated A-line resembling a tent or trapeze shapes in the 1960s. Jumpers seemed to evolve from function; and sportswear, separates, and layering are all concepts that apply to jumpers. Some jumper styles are reminiscent of children's garments or school uniforms. The ideal body for women in the 1920s was straight, undeveloped, even childlike. The garçonne, or waif, look also was popular in the 1960s and again in the 1980s with many images of young women wearing short, mini-length jumpers. Functional, apron-like wraparound jumpers designed to protect clothing may have inspired Claire McCardell's 1940s denim wrap-around coverall "popover dress." McCardell was famous for her sportswear designs, including jumpers to wear over jersey leotards. Bonnie Cashin is another designer also known for designing jumpers as versatile and sophisticated sportswear.
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Barbara Perso Heinemann