The Dietrich Twins
Apparently, unitards (or catsuits as the term stands today) were a popular outfit for acrobats back in as early as the 1800s. As one of the earliest historical records that capture this fashion we can menshion the 1820s news articles telling us about a contortion duo of the Dietrich twins, who performed in Upper Canada (current Ontario) and the Great Lakes region.
Albert and Fiona Dietrich were a "frontbender" and a "backbender" respectively. Their parents were from Austria and moved to North America with many other immigrants at the time. The first records of them mention 14 years old brother and sister possessing astonishing physical abilities, the girl for example described as "balancing nimbly on her fingers, raising her legs above her head, and slowly setting her feet under her head, so her chin rested on her heels".
Another local newspaper's article mentions them at the age of 16, possibly at the peak of their career as performers, this time it was accompanied with a carefully made drawing of the duo to further impress the reader. Interestingly, the article focuses not as much on their extraordinary contortions as it is focused on their sensational choice of clothing. Possibly because such degrees of bodybending weren't something particularly new to see, but the clothes, of the girl particularly, indeed made quite a change.
Fiona, as the article goes, wore a cotton unitard-like garment, with a looser chest area and tight leg segments. Possibly a shirt and leggings made of the same fabric and color were simply sown together to create this outift, either way it was seemingly the first appearance of the unitard in the documented history, at least if we consider reliable sources.
The journalist makes a critical statement on the girl's attire, however, saying that the tight bodysuit made her body appear "soaked in red paint, while technically unsheathed" on a first sight. However, we all know that by the end of the 19th century such bodysuits became almost an undisputable standard for acrobats both in Europe and America as it would perfectly display the performer's body without putting up an open struggle against the strict moral standards of the time.
Albert's lower half of the body was also wrapped in the tightest leggings, however, his top was covered by a plain white shirt with puffy sleeves. As we know from numerous photographs made of circus artists, by the end of the 19th century both male and female performers used the full bodysuit equally, but in the 1820s such a sleek attire on a boy would probably still cause a great moral discomfort in the audience. Of course, still nobody would dare to walk in the street wearing such a unitard but on a stage it gradually became an acceptable thing for both genders.
There appears to be no further articles about this duo, although "Albert Dietrich" is recorded as also working at a logging camp nearby, but it's impossible to say if it's even the same person.
Thanks again to Filter-GX for sharing all this information with me, we had quite a discussion, so I tried to compile it in a more plain and readable form. Hope you enjoyed reading this and also looking at my attempt to portrait the twins! XD
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