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What is a Bikini?

Niki Acker
Updated May 21, 2024
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A bikini is a two-piece women's bathing suit that resembles a bra and panties in shape. Though Louis Réard and Jacques Heim designed the first bathing suit known by this name for a 1946 fashion show, the style predates their design. Films and photographs from earlier in the 20th century show women in two-piece swimsuits, and there are even ancient Roman mosaics featuring women exercising in costumes that closely resemble the modern-day suit.

There are many different styles of bikini. The one that officially debuted in 1946 was a string bikini, with triangles of fabric covering the breasts and genitals and strings making up the rest. Many also offer coverage of the buttocks, though the 1946 one did not. Other styles include a bandeau top — a rectangular strip of fabric covering the breasts — a top with cups similar to a push-up bra, and more modest bottom pieces such as briefs, shorts, or briefs with a small skirt attached. A more modern variant, the tankini, includes a tank top.

Réard and Heim named their new bathing suit after the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the site of a recent nuclear weapons test, in reference to the "explosive" effect the bathing suit would have. The design was so scandalous that only a nude dancer agreed to model it. However, it began to catch on in the coming decades, with the help of such bikini-clad movie stars as Brigitte Bardot in 1956's And God Created Woman and Ursula Andress as the first Bond girl in 1962's Dr. No. By the 1960s, it was one of the most popular styles in women's swimwear.

A newer type of women's swimwear inspired by the bikini is called the monokini. The term is a play on the original name, as mono- means "one" and bi- means "two," though the bikini is named after a place and its name does not really mean "two" of anything. A monokini may simply be the bottom part of a two-piece worn alone for topless sunbathing, or it may be a skimpy one-piece garment that resembles the bikini, leaving the midriff mostly bare. The first monokini was designed in 1964 by Rudi Gernreich and left the breasts bare, though it provided significant coverage of the bottom half of the torso.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a BeautyAnswered editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By cupcake15 — On Jun 03, 2011

@Latte31 - I know what you are saying but a lot of women work hard to have their bodies look good in a bikini and they want to show it off a little. I personally don’t like thongs myself and would never wear one, but if someone else wants to, that is okay with me.

I personally like the tankini's which are the more moderate looking two piece bathing suits that have a top that goes slightly below the midriff and a regular bikini bottom which are more flattering and comfortable as well. This is as far as I would deviate from a one piece bathing suit.

By latte31 — On Jun 02, 2011

@Moldova - I agree and what I hate is when someone wears a bikini swimsuit and the bikini bottoms are too small for them. It is a little offensive because you really don’t want to see that at the beach.

I know that some women like to wear the thong bikini bottoms but I think it is a little too much for beach attire especially when there are small children around. For me, I think that it is just bad taste and it has to be uncomfortable as well.

By Moldova — On Jun 01, 2011

Anon13118 - I didn't know that. I wanted to say that

I think that bikini swimwear really looks best on really thin women. I think that since it is so revealing it is hard to hide any imperfections. A lot of women even if they are thin feel uncomfortable in a bikini swimsuit because you really have to have a lot of confidence to wear a bikini.

I know for me, I prefer a one piece swim suit because I don’t have to worry about how my stomach looks. I don’t want to have to hold in my stomach the whole time I am at the beach. I want to be able to relax.

By anon13118 — On May 19, 2008

just for you guys to know the name bikini has been given for its atom-sized swimsuit, that is the only link with the bikini atoll nothing else...

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a BeautyAnswered editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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