Name That Muse: The Leotard and Other Pieces Inspired by Real People

When the person who popularized a piece is so influential their name becomes synonymous with the piece itself, we call that an eponym. Or, simply, a word derived from the name of the person who inspired it. Fashion is rife with eponyms, but here’s a peek at three of our very favorites.

BLG-1727 What Are You Really Wearing

The Mary Jane Shoe
Okay, so, the Mary Jane wasn’t inspired by an actual person. The name is rooted in a comic strip from the turn of the 20th century, Buster Brown. When the comic took off, its creator sold the rights to use the characters – Buster Brown and his sweetheart (drumroll), Mary Jane – to Brown Shoe Company. The company ran a slew of ads featuring the characters with ankle-strap shoes, which they wore in the comic strip. It called these shoes, fittingly, Mary Janes.

The Leotard
French acrobat Jules Léotard popularized one-piece sportswear in the 19th century. He favored the skintight aesthetic of the style we now know as “the leotard” because of the range of motion it allowed him during his routines. Oh, and Léotard himself wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. He also invented the art of trapeze.

The Cardigan Sweater
Leave it to the earls. The 7th Earl of Cardigan is to the button-front knit as the 4th Earl of Sandwich is to the lunchtime staple. The Earl of Cardigan, a respected 18th century Major General in the British Army, was known for outfitting his men in knit waistcoats. With his military success came the name for this eponymous sweater style.

By Jillian Hudon, Staff Writer

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September 10, 2013