To know where the leotard came from you must first know what a maillot is.
Maillot: one-piece, tight-fitting swim suits. Manufactured with a stretchable, jersey fabric.
Although these were intended for women, Jules Leotard put them on the map for all gymnastics and dancers. His last name undoubtably gives away his role. In the mid 1800s he created a garment very similar to the maillot. Something skin-tight, easy to move in and revealing enough to show off his muscular body and performance, properly named ‘Leotard’. Even though Jules Leotard was a circus performer, him and his new creation captured the attention of dancers quickly.
Today there is such a large selection of different styles and fabrics to choose from for Leotards that it would make Jules’ original leotard look unappealing to modern dancers. Old fashioned or not, that leotard was the start to an essential dance fashion piece that has been used for centuries.