High-waisted Bikini Bottom

AKA: retro bikini bottoms, high-rise bikini bottoms

How to say it:  hahy – wey-stid  bih-kee-nee

Traditional Features: 

High-waisted bikini bottom

  • waistline sits around the navel/natural waist
  • can be high-cut or low-cut

21st Century High-Waisted Bikini Bottoms

Despite their retro origins, the high-waisted bikini bottom is back with a vengeance and while they do ooze old-school glamour, the modern styles look anything but dated. Modern designers have latched onto the popular high-waisted look and have reinvented the style for the new millennium, offering chic, feminine styles that provide more coverage for those who want it.

6 Shore Road Gottex

6 Shore Road, Gottex

Mara Hoffman Seafolly

Mara Hoffman, Seafolly


…of the style: The first two-piece swimsuit was apparently developed in 1913 by designer Carl Jantzen, to increase the performance of female Olympic swimmers. These early two-piece styles were barely bikinis, displaying a mere inch or so of midriff between the top and bottom, but this was nonetheless the creation of the high-waited bikini bottom.

As the two-piece suits became popular throughout the 1920s, the high-waisted bottom allowed women to bare more skin than before, whilst still adhering to the rules of public decency which basically frowned on visible belly buttons. These rules were further enforced in 1930 when Hollywood introduced the Hay’s Code which forbid movie stars from showing their navels on the big screen. This requirement saw celebrities like Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth continue to wear the high-waisted style on the silver screen throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s, despite the introduction of the scandalous bikini in Paris in 1946.

The lower waisted bikini style began to take over in Europe, but western countries like the USA and Australia were not as accepting, and women continued to wear the high-waisted style throughout the 50s. However, even American swimwear designers slowly began to lower their waistlines throughout the decade in preparation for the inevitable invasion of the bikini, which happened in the 1960s. The new, lower slung bikini styles reigned in swimwear through the 60s and 70s, but bikini bottom waistlines began to rise again in the mid 1980s and returned to just below the belly button in the 1990s.

This resurgence of the high-waisted bikini bottom didn’t last long, as skimpier, lower slung styles once again took over at the beginning of the 21st century. While these low, hipster styles are still popular in the second decade of the millennium, the high-waisted style has once again risen to popularity. Perhaps it is in response to the high-waisted styles that have reappeared in women’s wear over the last couple of seasons, or maybe swimwear designers have just turned a nostalgic eye to the past in an attempt to regain the style and glamour of the 1950s. Who know, but for whatever the reason, swimwear waistlines have risen and modern women are enjoying the extra coverage. The high-waisted bikini bottom has been popular for a couple of season so far, but it is a definite style choice for those who wear it and is not universally flattering, so who knows how long the trend will last.

…of the name: The term high-waisted refers to the level of the waist band on the bikini bottom. A high-waisted bikini bottom has a waistband that sits around the navel, several inches higher than what is considered normal in modern fashion terms. Hence the name.

Random Facts…

  • technically speaking, high-waisted bikini bottoms are generally not actually high-waisted as they sit at or slightly below the natural waist. High-waisted is actually defined as sitting ABOVE the natural waistline (in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion), therefore, high-waisted bikini bottoms should really be called natural-waisted.
  • The Hay’s Code was enforced in Hollywood until 1968

For more info on High-Waisted Bikini Bottoms try ELLE, Glamour, College Fashion or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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