Just when you thought leotards couldn't rise up the hip any higher, Orange County hard bodies began sporting the thong, a G-string worn over tights.
The thong--the hottest thing in workout wear--looks uncomfortable.
"It takes some getting used to, but then it's actually more comfortable than a regular leotard because it doesn't bunch up," promises Jeff Abraham, owner of Fitwear stores in Orange, Fountain Valley and Santa Ana.
The body is getting more exposure than ever from aerobic wear.
This spring fitness fans can really show some skin, with cheeky leotards of see-through lace and mesh, a la Cher, thongs and G-strings, crop tops with shoulder-baring T or racer backs and slinky tights that expose calves and thighs.
Skin peeks through slits cut out of the sleeves and down the fronts of a new line of leotards by Carushka, a Van Nuys-based aerobics wear manufacturer. The leotards can be worn with matching leggings that have webbed slits along the sides that expand to expose the flesh underneath.
"The fatter you are, the bigger the holes are," jokes Susan Barlow, owner of Dancegear stores in Costa Mesa, Irvine and Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
Some styles would be indecent if worn without lining or opaque tights.
Barlow carries a scanty black lace leotard with a see-through thong back by Ko-fe that looks made for the bedroom instead of the gym.
"It looks like a teddy," she says.
A tank leotard by WOW (Work Out Wear) of Miami comes in white or black mesh fabric, but only exhibitionists would wear it without the matching mesh tights with flesh-colored lining. Dancegear sells the leotard for $34 and the tights for $24.
Those who have tanned and buffed their bodies to perfection can find an array of colorful crop tops and bras that bare their tight torsos.
A chartreuse-and-black cow print adorns the biker shorts and matching crop top from Gotta Have It, both available at Fitwear in Santa Ana for $29. The manufacturer also makes bras and leggings in a festive pink-and-black geometric pattern.
Biker-length leggings that cut off at mid-thigh but lack the padding of real biker shorts have been adopted by aerobics fans, especially during the warmer months, according to Lesley Freeman, a buyer for Fitwear. One pair by Softouch comes adorned with sexy black lace side panels.
While aerobics styles might be more risque, the minuscule pieces of fabric that go into these creations have become more subdued. Gone are the high-gloss, shiny leotards built more for flash than dance. Most new designs now come in comfortable cotton Lycra blends, Barlow says.
Those eye-popping neons of last season washed out: Colors have been toned down. Designers have substituted bright corals for shocking orange, and egg yolk and lemon yellows for glow-in-the-dark fluorescent yellow. Carushka introduced solid-colored tank leotards in spicy tones of orange, purple, mango and turquoise.
Aerobic wear isn't just for the gym. Even couch potatoes wear leotards and leggings on the street. "Fifteen percent of our customers don't even work out," says Abraham of Fitness stores. "They buy the active wear to mix and match with their own wardrobes."
"It's fun fashion," Barlow says. "We're not talking about $100,000 fur coats. At the most, we're talking about a $60 to $70 leotard."
Women are wearing leggings under oversize shirts or the sheer, full skirts in full bloom this spring. The adventurous are sporting a lacy leotard or revealing tank under a jacket or blouse, or pairing a bra-style top with a mini-skirt.
Soft bodies can find less revealing leotards that offer more coverage.
"Some women don't want to go near a G-string," Abraham says.
The Baryshnikov line has a relatively modest black leotard with red paneling and red-and-white, striped piping that cuts just high enough on the hip to make the legs appear longer and slimmer.
Still, some people's proportions simply don't match up to the lean figures envisioned by manufacturers.
"If you're a skinny woman with a long torso, you need a large leotard, but then it's going to be baggy," says Dena Teeter, owner of Step In Time in Laguna Niguel. Teeter makes custom-designed aerobic wear for those who can't find their size or style in the stores.
"Some customers want a leotard with sleeves. Now you only have a choice between a tank and a tank. There's not much in the way of sleeve treatment."
She can make women look slimmer by adding shoulder pads to balance heavy hips or insets of printed fabric cut into triangle or hourglass shapes to create the illusion of a waistline where none, in fact, exists.
"A printed, V-shaped inset against a solid color takes the eye away from the hips and draws it to the face," she says.
Yet to her, all this worry about looking great in a leotard seems a little silly.
"I don't know why people get all dressed up to sweat," she says.
Others, however, say wearing a stylish leotard helps get them pumped up to go to the gym. They want something to show for their hard work.
"If they're working out on their bodies, they want their bodies to look the best they can look," Barlow says.
For Fitwear's Freeman, a flattering leotard is her reward for lifting weights.
"If you work out five days a week, you darn well deserve to wear a top-of-the-line Carushka thong," she says.