AKA: one-piece swimsuit

How to say it: mah-yoh

Traditional Features: 


  • one-piece swimsuit
  • tank style top
  • high cut legs
  • backless

21st Century Maillots

Despite the huge popularity of the bikini, the humble one-piece or maillot still has a vast presence on the swimwear market. Season after season designers and brands from the high-street to the high-end produce new takes on the classic style to keep it looking fun and new every single summer.

Bikini Lab DKNY

Bikini Lab, DKNY

Marc by Marc Jacobs Vince Camuto

MARC by Marc Jacobs, Vince Camuto


…of the style: The maillot is essentially a one-piece swimsuit. Traditionally, it had a scoop neckline with tank-like straps going over the shoulder, an open scoop back and high-cut legs, however over the years the term has evolved to encompass all styles of one-piece suits.

The predecessor of the maillot was the skirted or long-legged swimsuits worn in the beginning of the 20th century; these modest early styles were made from wool and incorporated various kinds of elastic to add stretch and improve the fit of the suits and had in turn evolved from the bathing dresses of Victorian times. As the decades moved on swimsuits gradually got tighter fitting, necklines dropped to the top of the bust, and the skirt disappeared to reveal high cut legs and the maillot as we know it was born.

Whilst the USA took a little longer to accept the more revealing one-piece style than Europe, by the 1960s the maillot had been accepted in society, and surpassed by the bikini. The bikini ruled for the remainder of the decade, but by the end of the 1970s the one-piece maillot had been reintroduced, this time with legs cut as high as the hip bones.

From then on the one-piece or maillot shared the swimwear spotlight with the bikini, changing with the trends over the years. The 80s were all about showing as much skin as possible, so maillot styles were low-cut at the top, high cut at the legs and often involved see-through mesh fabrics for a little more exposure. This more-is-more attitude continued through the 90s, but at the turn of the century, maillots began to turn back towards the more modest styles, looking to the feminine, glamorous styles of the past for inspiration.

In the 21st century swimwear trends continue to change with the seasons, and while the one-piece styles available on the market certainly follow these trends, the maillot also comes in all shapes and sizes regardless of what is being shown on the catwalks, offering the modern woman a huge range of choice when it comes to one-piece options – from high-cut, busty styles to boy-leg halter necks and everything in-between.

…of the name: The term maillot was introduced into the English language in 1928 and comes from the French word for means ‘swaddling clothes’.

Random Facts

  • 70% of women over the age of 18 prefer a one-piece swimsuit

For more info on the Maillot try Wikipedia, Swimsuit Style, Fashion Era,  or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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