A bikini or two-piece is a type of women's swimsuit, characterized by two separate parts — one covering the breasts (optionally in the case of the Monokini), the other the groin (and optionally the buttocks), leaving an uncovered area between the two garments. It is often worn in hot weather or while swimming. The shapes of both parts of a bikini closely resemble women's underwear, and the lower part of a bikini can therefore range from the more revealing thong or g-string, to briefs, and modest square-cut shorts.

Bikini was invented by French engineer Louis Réard in 1946 and he named it after the Bikini Atoll, which was the site of a nuclear weapon test called Operation Crossroads on July 1, 1946 in the Pacific. The reasoning for the name was that the burst of excitement created by it would be like a nuclear device. Monokini, a bikini variant, derives its name, as a back formation, from bikini, interpreting the first syllable as the Latin prefix bi- (meaning "two" or "doubled") and substituting for it mono- (meaning "one"). Jacques Heim called his bikini precursor the Atome (named for its size), while Louis Réard claimed to have "split the Atome" to make it smaller.

Bikini is the most popular beachwear around the globe, which is, according to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard, due to "the power of women, and not the power of fashion", as he explains, ""The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women." By mid 2000s, these two-piece bathing suits eveolved into an US$ 811 million business annually, according to the NPD Group, a consumer and retail information company. The bikini has boosted spin-off services like bikini waxing and the sun tanning industries.


Two-piece garments worn by women for athletic purposes have been observed on Greek urns and paintings, dated as early as 1400 BC.

Ancient artwork dating back to the Diocletian period (286-305 AD) in Villa Romana del Casale outside the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily have depicted women in garments resembling modern-day bikinis. The Roman villa with its large and complex collection of Roman mosaics is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Images of ten women, dubbed the "Bikini Girls", playing in clothing that would pass as bikinis today are the most replicated mosaic among the 37 million colored tiles found at the site. Depicted on the floor of the room dubbed as the "Chamber of the Ten Maiden" (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze in Italian), the mosaic was excavated by Gino Vinicio Gentile in the period 1950-60. The bikini girls are shown in the artwork dubbed as "Coronation of the Winner", performing various exercises including weight-lifting, discus throwing, running, and ball-games, while one woman in toga is depicted with a crown in hand and one of the Maidens is holding a palm frond in hand.

In ancient Rome, the bikini-style bottom, a wrapped loincloth made of cloth or leather, was called subligar or subligaculum (meaning "little binding underneath") while a band of cloth or leather to support the breasts was called strophium or mamillare. One such bottom, made of leather, from the time of Roman Britain was displayed Museum of London in 1998. Martial, a Latin poet from Hispania who published between AD 86 and 103, satirized an female athlete who played ball in a bikini-like garb.

Bikini precursors

In 1907, Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a form-fitting one-piece suit that became the generally accepted swimsuit for women by 1910. Her pictures wearing that garb was produced as evidence in the Esquire magazine versus United States Postmaster General legal battle for indecency as late as in 1943.

In 1913, inspired by the introduction of female athletes into Olympic swimming events, the designer Carl Jantzen made the first truly functional two-piece swimwear, a close-fitting one-piece with shorts on the bottom and short sleeves up top. The swimsuit apron, a popular design for early swimwear, disappeared by 1918, leaving a tunic covering the shorts. Though matching stockings were still worn, bare legs were exposed from the bottom of the trunks to the top of the shorts. With the advent of new material like lastex and nylon, the swimsuit by 1934 started hugging the body and was constructed to allow shoulder straps to be lowered for tanning. Burlesque and vaudeville performers wore two-piece outfits in the 1920s, and in 1932 French designer Madeleine Vionnet offered an exposed midriff in an evening gown. Then, in 1935, American designer Claire McCardell cut out the side panels of a maillot-style bathing suit that is seen as the bikini's forerunner.

Two-piece swimsuits started appearing in the US, without the usual skirt panel and other superfluous material, when the U.S. Government ordered a 10 percent reduction in the fabric used in woman's swimwear in 1943 as part of wartime rationing. Films of holidaymakers in Germany in the 1930s show women wearing two-piece bathing suits. They were to be seen again a year later in Gold Diggers of 1933. The elaborately and lavishly assembled Busby Berkeley film spectacle, Footlight Parade of 1932 showcases stunning aquachoreography that profusely featured what could only be regarded as bikini swimwear. Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties series (1914-1919) and Dorothy Lamour's The Hurricane (1937) also shown two-piece bathing suits.

By early 1940s two-piece swimsuits were seen frequently on American beaches. The July 9, 1945 issue of Life shows women in Paris wearing similar items. Hollywood stars like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner all tried out similar swimwear or beachwear by then. Pin ups of Hayworth and Esther Williams in the garb were widely distributed.

1946 to 1962: Introduction and popular resistance

The modern bikini was introduced by French engineer Louis Réard and fashion designer Jacques Heim in Paris in 1946. Louis Réard was a car engineer by training, but by 1946 he was running his mother's lingerie boutique near Les Folies Bergères in Paris. Jacques Heim was working on a prototype for a new kind of beach costume. It comprised two pieces, the bottom was large enough to cover its wearer's bellybutton. In May 1946, he unveiled his invention and advertised it as the world's "smallest bathing suit". He sliced the top off the bottoms and advertised it as "smaller than the smallest swimsuit". The idea struck him when he saw women rolling up their beachwear to get a better tan.

Réard could not find a model who would dare to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris as his model. That bikini, a string bikini with a g-string back made out of of clothes with newspaper type printed across, was "officially" introduced on July 5 at a fashion event at Piscine Molitor, a popular public pool in Paris. The bikini was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini received some 50,000 fan letters. Heim's design was the first to be worn on the beach, but the genre of clothing was given its name by Réard. Reard's business soared, and in advertisements he kept the bikini mystique alive by declaring that a two-piece suit wasn't a genuine bikini "unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring." French newspaper Le Figaro wrote, "People were craving the simple pleasures of the sea and the sun. For women, wearing a bikini signaled a kind of second liberation. There was really nothing sexual about this. It was instead a celebration of freedom and a return to the joys in life."

But, bikini sales did not pick up around the world, and women stuck with more traditional two piece swimsuits. Réard went back to designing orthodox knickers to sell in his mother’s shop. Actresses in movies like My Favorite Brunette (1947) and the model on a 1948 cover of Life magazine were shown in traditional two-piece swimwear, not the bikini. In 1950, Time interviewed American swimsuit mogul Fred Cole and reported that he had "little but scorn for France’s famed Bikinis," because, according to him they were designed for "diminutive Gallic women". "French girls have short legs," he explained to Time, "Swimsuits have to be hiked up at the sides to make their legs look longer." Modern Girl magazine wrote in 1957, "It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing." Movie star Esther Williams commented, "A bikini is a thoughtless act." One writer described it as a "two piece bathing suit which reveals everything about a girl except for her mother's maiden name." According to Kevin Jones, a curator and fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, "Réard was ahead of his time by about 15 to 20 years. Only women in the vanguard, mostly upper-class European women embraced it, just like the upper-class European women who first cast off their corsets after World War I."

Brigitte Bardot, who was photographed wearing similar garments on the beaches of Cannes during the Film Festival (1953) and was featured wearing a bikini in And God Created Woman (1956), helped popularize the bikini in Europe in the 1950s and created a market for the swimwear in the US. Photographs of Bardot in bikini on the beaches of Saint-Tropez in French Riviera, according to the The Guardian UK, turned Saint-Tropez into the bikini capital of the world. But, Catholic countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy banned the bikini, and it remained prohibited in many US states. Hays production code for US movies allowed two-piece gowns but prohibited navels on-screen. In 1951 bikinis were banned from the Miss World Contest following the crowning of Miss Sweden in a bikini and subsequent protests with a number of countries threatening to withdraw. National Legion of Decency pressured Hollywood to keep bikinis from being featured in Hollywood movies.

Since 1962: Popularity and social acceptance

In 1962, an icon was born as Bond Girl Ursula Andress emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini in Dr. No. The Dr. No bikini scene has been quoted as one of the most memorable scenes from the British spy film series. Channel 4 of UK declared it as the top bikini moment in film history, Virgin Media puts it in 9th position in its list of top ten movie bikini, and the top position in the list for top ten Bond girls. The Herald (Glasgow) put the scene as best ever bikini scene on the basis of a poll. It also helped shape the career of Ursula Andress, the look of the quintessential Bond movie. According to Andress, "This bikini made me into a success. That white bikini has been described as a "defining moment in the sixties liberalization of screen eroticism". According to British Broadcasting Corporation, "So iconic was the look that it was repeated 40 years later by Halle Berry in the Bond movie Die Another Day." In 2001, the Dr. No bikini sold at an auction for US$ 61,500.

The appearance of bikinis kept increasing both on screen and off. Sex appeal of bikini, prompted numerous film and television productions, including Dr. Strangelove, as much as public morals. They include the numerous surf movies of the early 1960s. In 1960, Brian Hyland's pop song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" inspired a bikini-buying spree. By 1963, the movie Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, led a wave of films that made the bikini a pop-culture symbol. In the time of the sexual revolution in 1960s America, bikinis eventually started getting popular fast. In 1965, a woman told Time it was "almost square" not to wear bikinis, which, given the outlet, suggests she was correct. In 1967 the magazine wrote that "65% of the young set had already gone over." The Playboy first featured a bikini on its cover in 1962. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue debuted two years later. This increasing popularity was reinforced by its appearance in contemporary movies like How to Stuff a Wild Bikini featuring Annette Funicello and One Million Years B.C featuring Raquel Welch. Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida and Jane Russell helped the growing popularity of bikinis further. Pin up posters of Monroe and Mansfield, as well as Hayworth, Bardot and Raquel Welch distributed around the world contributed significantly to the popularity of bikini.

The 1970s saw the rise of the this lean ideal of female body and models athletic figures like Cheryl Tiegs, who possessed the athletic figure that, for the most part, remains in vogue today. The fitness boom of the 1980s, lead by icons like Jane Fonda, led to one of the biggest leaps in the evolution of the bikini. According to the observations of Mills, "The leg line became superhigh, the front was superlow, and the straps were superthin." That body ideal was carried further by supermodels like Elle Macpherson, who is also known as "the Body" and has featured six times on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the one-piece suit made a big comeback. In France, Réard's swimsuit company folded in 1988, four years after the death of Réard whose life of persuading manufacturers who plagiarized his invention ended in 1984. As skin cancer awareness grew and a simpler aesthetic defined fashion in the 1990s, the skimpy bikini took a nosedive in popularity. This new body ideal was epitomized by icons like surf star Malia Jones, who appeared on June 1997 cover of Shape Magazine wearing a halter top two-piece built for rough water. After the 90s, however, it came back strong again. US-based market research company NPD Group reported that sales of two-piece swimsuits nationwide jumped by 80% in two years in mid 2000s. According to Beth Dincuff Charleston, research associate at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The bikini represents a social leap involving body consciousness, moral concerns, and sexual attitudes."


The first modern bikinis were made of cotton and jersey. By the 1970s, when American women were catching up with the more daring Europeans attitudes, bikini variants started to diversify widely. Swimsuit designers rediscovered lycra (DuPont's name for spandex), a stretch fiber that allowed them to stitch tinier pieces of fabric. Retailer Marks & Spencer reintroduced the material used as an alternative to nylon in making swimsuits in the 1960s. It allowed designers to create the string bikini, and allowed Rudi Gernreich to created the topless monokini. According to Kelly Killoren Bensimon in The Bikini Book, "The advent of Lycra allowed more women to wear a bikini. It didn't sag, it didn't bag, and it concealed and revealed. It wasn't so much like lingerie anymore." Women on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Saint-Tropez went even further, forgoing all rear-view coverage to show off their thongs. Nowadays, bikinis are acceptable in all shapes and sizes and the G-string coexist with less revealing numbers like Boyshorts and bandeau tops.


Throughout its history, the bikini has spawned many stylistic variations. The wide number of different popular styles and types of bikinis often have very little in common besides the general uniting definition of a two-piece style of swimsuit. A regular bikini is defined as a two pieces of garments that cover the groin and buttocks at the lower end and the breasts in the upper end. Some bikinis can offer a large amount of coverage, while other bikinis provide only the barest minimum. Topless variants may still be considered bikinis, although technically no longer two-piece swimsuits.

Bikini tops come in several different styles and cuts, including a halter-style neck that offers more coverage and support, a strapless bandeau, a rectangular strip of fabric covering the breasts, that minimizes large breasts, a top with cups similar to a push-up bra, and the more traditional triangle cups that lift and shape the breasts. Bikini bottoms, can also vary in style and cut and in the amount of coverage they offer. Bottom coverage can range anywhere from complete underwear-style coverage, as in the case of more modest bottom pieces like briefs, shorts, or briefs with a small skirt-panel attached, to almost full exposure, as in the case of the thong bikini. Skimpier styles have narrow sides, including V-cut (in front), French cut (with high-cut sides) and low-cut string (with string sides).

List of variants

Following are the major variants of bikini.

String bikini

A string bikini refers to a bikini swimsuit that is scantier and more revealing than traditional bikinis. It gets its name from the string characteristics of its design. Rather than featuring a full single piece bottom, the string bikini consists of two triangular shaped pieces connected at the groin but not at the sides, where a thin "string" wraps around the waist connecting the two parts. String bikini tops are similar and are tied in place by the attached "string" pieces. String pieces can either be continuous or tied.

It is claimed that Brazilian fashion model Rose de Primallio created the first string bikini when she had to sew one with insufficient fabric available to her for a photoshoot. The first formal presentation of string bikini was done by Glen Tororich, a public relations agent, and his wife Brandi Perret-DuJon, a fashion model, for the opening of Le Petite Centre, a shopping area in the French Quarter of the New Orleans, Louisiana in 1974. Inspired by a picture of a Rio De Janeiro fashion model in an issue of Women's Wear Daily, they had local fashion designer Lapin create a string bikini for the event. Models recruited by talent agent Peter Dasigner presented it by removing fur coats by Alberto Lemon on stage. The presentation was covered by local television stations and the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, and was sent out via the wire news services of the Associated Press and United Press International.

String bikinis are one of the most popular variations of traditional bikinis. A string bikini or thong is also a type of undergarment worn by both men and women. It is similar to but more revealing than a bikini. Women's string bikini underwear normally resembles the bottom of the string bikini bathing suit. Men's string bikini underwear consists of a front and rear section joined at the crotch but not at the sides. The tops of each piece join with either an elastic waistband similar to that found on briefs or to a thin piece of material or "string," leaving the sides exposed except for the string or waistband.


A monokini, sometimes referred to as a unikini, is a woman's one piece beach garment equivalent to the lower half of a bikini. The term is used for different styles of one-piece swimsuits inspired by the bikini.

In 1964, Rudi Gernreich, an Austrian fashion designer, designed the original monokini in the US. Gernreich also invented its name, and the word monokini is first recorded in English that year. Gernreich's monokini looked like a one-piece swimsuit but cut off a bit below the breasts leaving them bare. It had only two small straps over the shoulders. It was not very successful. Many women who wanted to sunbathe topless simply wore the bottom part of a bikini. Manufacturers and retailers quickly adapted to selling tops and bottoms separately. Gernreich later created the lesser known pubikini.

In the 1960s, the monokini led the way into the sexual revolution by emphasizing a woman's personal freedom of dress, even when her attire was provocative and exposed more skin than had been the norm during the more conservative 1950s. Today, many monokinis are designed as the ultimate in sexy swimwear, using chains, strings, and strategic strips of fabric to join the upper and lower portions of the suit while still covering the basics of the female form. Today's styles are decidedly less racy than Gernreich's original design, but nonetheless are a revealing style of swimsuit.

The term monokini is also now used to indicate any topless swimsuit, particularly a bikini bottom worn without a bikini top. In recent years, the term has come into use for topless bathing by women: where the bikini has two parts, the monokini is the lower part. Where monokinis are in use, the word bikini may jokingly refer to a two-piece outfit consisting of a monokini and a sun hat.


A microkini is an extremely skimpy bikini. The designs for both women and men typically use only enough fabric to cover the genitalia. Any additional straps are merely to keep the garment attached to the wearer's body. Some variations of the microkini use adhesive or wire to hold the fabric in place over the genitals. These designs do not require any additional side straps to keep the garment in place. The most radical variations of the microkini are simply thin straps which cover little or none of the wearer's body. The term "microkini" was coined in 1995 in an online community dedicated to enthusiasts of the extreme designs. Microkinis fill a niche between nudism and conservative swimwear. In addition to keeping the wearer just within legal limits of decency, they have also evolved to become the ultimate in provocative sun wear.

The modern microkini's origins can be traced back to the early-1970's in Venice Beach, California, US, where, after legislation was passed banning nudity there, beach regulars began making their own tiny bathing suits to comply with the new laws. The homemade suits were often little more than tiny, remnant pieces of fabric, crudely sewn together with thin twine or fishing line. Then around 1975, a local bikini shop picked up on the idea and began to make more practical styles using modern materials. Soon after, several adult film actresses began wearing the shop's suits in their films and the style began to catch on. Pubikini, an extreme form of microkini, is another bathing suit created by Rudi Gernreich. The pubikini is a small piece of fabric that hugs the hips and buttocks but leaves the pubic region exposed.


The tankini is a swimsuit combining a tank top and a bikini bottom. The tankini is distinguished from the classic bikini by the difference in tops, the top of the tankini essentially being a tank top. The tankini top extends downward to somewhere between just above the navel and the top of the hips. The word is a neologism combining the tank of tank top with the end of the word bikini.

This type of swimwear is considered by some to provide modesty closer to a one piece suit with the convenience of a two piece suit, e.g. the entire suit need not be removed in order to use a lavatory. Tankinis come in a variety of styles, colors and shapes, some include features such as integrated push-up bras. A tankini for pregnant women also exists, which is divided in front exposing the navel. It is named the "peekaboo tankini".

Sling bikini

The sling bikini is also known as a "suspender bikini", "suspender thong", "slingshot bikini" or just "slingshot". The slingshot is a one-piece suit which provides as little, or even less, coverage (or as much exposure) as a bikini. Usually, a slingshot resembles a bikini bottom, but rather than the straps going around the hips or waist, the side straps extend upwards to cover the breasts and go over the shoulders, leaving the entire sides of the torso uncovered, but the nipples and pubic area covered. Behind the neck, the straps join and reach down the back to become a thong. This style of swimsuit was infamously worn by Sacha Baron Cohen's character Borat.

Sports bikini

Female athletes who play beach volleyball professionally usually wear two-pieces. These bikinis are designed with functionality rather than fashion in mind. In 1994, the bikini became the official uniform of women's Olympic beach volleyball, marking a female sexuality that was also athletic. It also sold tickets. Often the women in athletics also wear bikinis, not much larger than in beach volleyball.

In the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, inclusion of bikini-clad athletes raised eyebrows, while a controversy broke out around bikini-clad cheerleaders performing at a beach volleyball match. Bikinis stirred up a controversy at the 2006 Asian Games at Doha, Qatar, and the Iraqi team did not wear them. In the 2007 South Pacific Games, players were made to wear shorts and cropped sports tops instead of bikinis. In the same year, fans voted for contestants in the WWE Diva contest after watching them playing beach volleyball in skimpy bikinis. The popularity of Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, a video game for Xbox, was attributed to the skimpily clad women.

Men's bikini

The term men's bikini is used to describe types of men's swimsuits or similar garments. It often refers to a speedo although the description would fit several other types of men's wear more appropriately. Men's bikinis can have both high or low side panels and normally rest lower than the true waist, and most lack a button or flap front. Many do not have a visible waistband like briefs. Suits less than 1.5 inches wide at the hips are less common for sporting purposes and are most often worn for recreation, fashion, and sun tanning. An extremely brief version of this style, known as the posing brief, is the standard for competitions in the sport of bodybuilding.

Bikini underwear

Types of underwear worn by both men and women are identified as bikini underwear which is similar in size and revealing nature to the bottom half of a bikini bathing suit. For women, a bikini underwear can refer to virtually any tight, skimpy, or revealing undergarment that provides less coverage to the midsection than traditional underwear, panties or knickers. For men, a bikini is a type of undergarment that is smaller and more revealing than men's briefs.

Continuing controversy

Controversies around the bikini, ranging from woman's body ideals to sense of decency in traditional societies to commercialization of the female form, still keep appearing around the globe. In the 1960s, Emily Post decreed, "(A bikini) is for perfect figures only, and for the very young." In The Bikini Book by Kelly Killoren Bensimon, responding to a question on who should not wear a bikini, swimwear designer Norma Kamali says, "Anyone with a tummy." Since then, a number of bikini designers including Malia Mills have encouraged women of all ages and body types to take up the style. In one section of the Bikini Book, professional beach volleyballer Gabrielle Reece, who competes in a bikini, says that "confidence" alone can make a bikini sexy.

In 1996, when the Miss World contest was held in Bangalore, India, dozens of Indian groups opposed the event claiming that the contest degraded women by featuring them in bikinis. Social activist Subhashini Ali commented, "It's not an IQ test. Neither is it a charity show. It's a beauty contest in which these things have been added on as sops." The protests were so intense that the organizers were finally compelled to shift the venue of the "Swimsuit Round" to Seychelles. Afghan Miss Earth 2003 contestant Vida Samadzai was severely condemned by the Afghan Supreme Court, which said, "such a display of the female body goes against Islamic law and Afghan culture." Bikini related wardrobe malfunctions including wedgies, whale tails or bikini top falling off have also stirred controversies.

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