Swimsuit, Swimwear, Bathing Suit or Swimming Costume

A swimsuit, bathing suit or swimming costume is an item of clothing designed to be worn for swimming. In New Zealand English and some areas of Australian English, swimsuits are usually called togs. This term is less common in other parts of the Commonwealth where it can also refer to clothes in general. Swimsuits can be skin-tight or loosely fitting and range from garments designed to preserve as much modesty as possible to garments designed to reveal as much of the body as possible without actual nudity. They are often lined with a fabric that prevents them from becoming transparent when wet.

Swimsuits types and styles

Swimsuits are designed to cover at least the genitals and in most cultures women’s breasts or nipples. Men’s swimsuit styles are swimming trunks such as boardshorts, jammers, speedo-style briefs, thongs, g-strings or bikini. Women’s swimsuits are generally either one-pieces, bikinis or thongs. The most recent innovation is the burqini, a more modest garment designed for Muslim women; it covers the whole body and head (but not face) in a manner similar to a diver’s wetsuit.

The monokini, a style of swimsuit that most often takes the form of a bikini bottom without the corresponding top, leaves a woman’s breasts uncovered. Monokinis are quite common in many places throughout South America and Europe due to the high instance of topless beaches, though due to taboos they are almost never seen in the United States, except in places with a strong European tourist influence. For pre-pubescent girls leaving the chest uncovered is sometimes considered acceptable.

Special swimsuits for competitive swimming, designed to reduce skin drag, can resemble unitards. For some kinds of swimming and diving, special bodysuits called diveskins are worn. These suits are made from spandex and provide little thermal protection, but they do protect the skin from stings and abrasion. Most competitive swimmers also wear special swimsuits including partial and full bodysuits, racerback styles, jammers and racing briefs to assist their glide through the water and gain speed advantages.

Swimming without a bathing suit is a form of social nudity. Special nude beaches may be reserved for nude sunbathing and swimming. Swimming in the nude is also known by the slang term “skinny-dipping”. As an alternative to a bathing suit, some people use their trousers, underpants or T-shirt as a make-shift swimsuit. At beaches, norms for this tend to be more relaxed than at swimming pools, which tend not to permit this because underwear is unlined, may become translucent, and may be perceived as unclean.

Swimsuits are also worn for the purpose of body display in beauty pageants. Magazines like Sports Illustrated’s annual “swimsuit issue” feature models and sports personalities in swimsuits.

Women’s swimsuits

One-piece swimsuits

* Tank suit, or simply one-piece: Probably the most common form of one-piece swimsuit, the tank suit form is inspiration for the subsequent creation of the tank top as a mainstream article of clothing. The name “tank suit” is also supposed to be derived from the term “swimming tank”, an obsolete term for what is now called a swimming pool. Modern swimming pools are better filtered, additionally, the best above ground pool heater is available, too.

* Monokini: a term used for different styles of one-piece swimsuits inspired by the bikini style. A monokini is a bikini shaped that has been modified into one piece- for instance a monokini may be a bikini shape from the back, but with the torso covered in the front. Sling bikinis are sometimes, though not often, referred to as monokinis.

* Thong swimsuit: One-piece swimsuit with thong back, buttocks exposed, otherwise ordinary

* Sling bikini: 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.

* Pretzel suit: a one-piece suit similar to a sling bikini, but the straps encircle the torso around the bottom of the ribcage, forming a very high-sided bikini bottom; instead of the straps passing over the neck and down the back, they simply encircle the neck, joining the straps which pass around the midriff.

Two-piece swimsuits

* Bikini.
* Thong, T-back or G-string.
* Tankini: A tank top combined with a bikini bottom.
* Stringbodys, halter-necks, maillots and plunge fronts.

Swimsuit for Muslim women

These are an updated version of full-body swimwear, which has been available for centuries, but complies with Islam’s traditional emphasis on modest dress. They are also increasingly stylish, such as incorporating intricate sequin designs with miniskirts that go over long pants. Indonesia based ZEHBA is one of the key players in the Muslim identity apparel industry while they are increasingly popular in Turkey, Malaysia, US, Australasia and Europe.

* Burqini: Designed by Lebanese Australian Aheda Zanetti for Muslim women, the suit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet (enough to preserve Muslim modesty), but is light enough to enable swimming. The name “burqini” is a portmanteau of burqa and bikini.

In Egypt, the term “Sharia swimsuit” is used to describe full-body swimwear.

Men’s swimsuits or swimming trunks

* Briefs: The style varies from a speedo to thongs or g-string.

* Boardshorts: The length goes down to the knees. Some swimming pools forbid these for sanitary reasons.

* Shorts: a loose mid-thigh swimwear, made of 100% polyester or 100% nylon fabric. They are like regular shorts, but features a polyester liner inside the shorts. In the 1990s, they were the most popular bathing suit in the United States and were highly popularized, thanks in part to TV shows like Baywatch. Today, they have been eclipsed by boardshorts. Swimming shorts are often referred to simply as trunks, and occasionally as lifeguard shorts.

* Jammers: a type of men’s swimwear worn primarily by competitive athletes to obtain speed advantages. They are made of nylon and lycra/spandex material and have a form fitting design to reduce water resistance. They provide moderate coverage from the mid-waist to the area above the knee, somewhat resembling compression shorts worn by many athletes. They provide greater leg coverage than speedos or competitive briefs, although they also have slightly more water resistance.

* Square leg suits: a suit that takes the form of jammers, but the length of briefs.

Competitive swimwear

Unlike regular swimsuits, which are designed mainly for the physical appearances, competitive swimwear is manufactured for the purpose of aiding athletes in swim competitions. They reduce friction and drag in the water, increasing the efficiency of the swimmer’s forward motion. The tight fits allow for easy movement and are said to reduce muscle vibration, thus reducing drag. Starting around 2000, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the swimsuits, engineers have taken to designing them to replicate the skin of sea based animals, sharks in particular.

These swim suits are created in order to make water resistance as minimal as possible and thus allowing a swimmer to move more efficiently in water. The company Speedo, for example, came out with a swimsuit called “Fastskin”. It was discovered by scientists studying sharkskin that human skin is inadequate at “slicing” the water because of its porous design. Sharkskin is made of scales spaced very closely together called dermal denticles. It is the grooves in between the scales that produce drag resistant skin. The ridges allow water to pass around the shark more efficiently. More recently, Speedo launched a new swimsuit called “Fastskin LZR RACER”. Scientists carried out a global 3D body scanning exercise involving some 400 athletes to discover more about the precise shape of their bodies. Using Computational fluid dynamics, which can predict how existing and new product designs will behave in real-world environments, was used to evaluate the friction, pressure and fluid flow characteristics around swimmers. This analysis indicated where most drag occurs on the swimmer’s body, allowing Speedo to design for optimal drag reduction.


In Classical antiquity swimming and bathing was most often done nude. In some settings coverings were used. Murals at Pompeii show women wearing two-piece suits covering the areas around their breasts and hips in a fashion remarkably similar to a bikini of ca. 1960. After this, the notion of special water apparel seems to have been lost for centuries.

In various cultural traditions one swims, if not in the nude, in a version in suitable material of a garment or undergarment commonly worn on land, e.g. a loincloth such as the Japanese man’s fundoshi.

In the 18th century women wore “bathing gowns” in the water; these were long dresses of fabrics that would not become transparent when wet, with weights sewn into the hems so that they would not rise up in the water. The men’s swim suit, a rather form-fitting wool garment with long sleeves and legs similar to long underwear, was developed and would change little for a century.

In the 19th century, the woman’s two piece suit became common—the two pieces being a gown from shoulder to knees plus a set of trousers with leggings going down to the ankles.

In the Victorian era, popular beach resorts were commonly equipped with bathing machines designed to avoid the exposure of people in swimsuits, especially to people of the opposite sex.

In 1907 the swimmer Annette Kellerman from Australia visited the United States as an “underwater ballerina”, a version of synchronized swimming involving diving into glass tanks. She was arrested for indecent exposure because her swimsuit showed arms, legs and the neck. Kellerman changed the suit to have long arms and legs and a collar, still keeping the close fit that revealed the shapes underneath. She later starred in several movies, including one about her life.

After this event, bathing wear started to shrink, first uncovering the arms and then the legs up to mid-thigh. Collars receded from around the neck down to around the top of the bosom. The development of new fabrics allowed for new varieties of more comfortable and practical swim wear.

Due to the figure-hugging nature of these garments, glamour photography since the 1940s and 1950s has often featured people wearing swimsuits. This subset of glamour photography eventually evolved into swimsuit photography exemplified by the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issues.

The first bikinis were introduced just after World War II. Early examples were not very different from the women’s two pieces common since the 1920s, except that they had a gap below the breast line allowing for a section of bare midriff. They were named after Bikini Atoll, the site of several nuclear weapons tests, for their supposed explosive effect on the viewer.

Through the 1950s, it was thought proper for the lower part of the bikini to come up high enough to cover the navel. From the 1960s on, the bikini shrank in all directions until it sometimes covered little more than the nipples and genitalia, although less revealing models giving more support to the breasts remained popular. At the same time, Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich introduced the monokini, a topless suit for women consisting of a modest bottom supported by two thin straps. Although not a commercial success, the suit opened eyes to new design possibilities. In the 1980s the thong or “tanga” came out of Brazil, said to have been inspired by traditional garments of native tribes in the Amazon. However, the one-piece suit continued to be popular for its more modest approach.

Men’s swimsuits developed roughly in parallel to women’s during this period, with the shorts covering progressively less. Eventually racing-style “speedo” suits became popular—and not just for their speed advantages. Thongs, G-strings, and bikini style suits are also worn, typically these are more popular in more tropical regions; however, they may also be worn at public swimming pools and inland lakes. But in the 1990s, longer and baggier shorts became popular, with the hems often reaching to the knees. These were often worn lower on the hips than regular shorts.

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