AKA: topless swimsuit

How to say it: mon-uhkee-nee

Traditional Features: 


  • covers the groin and buttocks
  • leaves the bust area uncovered

21st Century Monokinis

The monokini, in all its controversial glory, doesn’t really exist on the modern swimwear market, as 21st century women who want the topless look tend to just don a pair of bikini bottoms. But for those who want to mimic the monokini of the past there are plenty of high-waisted bikini bottoms on the modern market to channel that 60s style.

Eres J.Crew


Norma Kamali Seafolly

Norma Kamali, Seafolly


…of the style: The monokini, a topless style of swimsuit, was introduced by Rudi Gernreich in 1964. He believed, early in the 1960s, that the next step in swimwear was for women to go topless, and in late 1963 he was invited by Susanne Kirtland of Look to create a monokini garment to accompany spread on futuristic trends. He believed the monokini should essentially be a bikini bottom, but that design was not unique enough so, after a few tries, he created the now iconic, black, high-waisted suit with halter straps that sat between the exposed breasts and tied behind the neck.

The suit was initially meant as a statement against society’s repressive attitudes towards sexuality and the human body (Gernreich was an open nudist) and was never intended to be produced commercially. However, after encouragement from fashion heavy-hitters like Diana Vreeland, Gernreich did market the style and despite the arrests, bans and public outcry against the garment, the monokini became popular in the 1960s and 70s.

In the 1980s the monokini shrunk to a mere pair of bikini bottoms (sometimes called the unikini) and the topless look remained popular throughout the decade. The popularity of going topless began to wind down towards the end of the century, and while women did still go topless on the beach or swimming pool, it was now where near as popular as it once was, and Gernreich’s monokini all but disappeared from the mainstream market.

In the 21st century, a search for monokinis will turn up a swath of suits that are a kind of hybrid between a one-piece and a two-piece, often very similar to a cut-out swimsuit that covers all the lady parts; nothing at all like the original Gernreich monokini really exists in the modern swimwear market anymore.

…of the name: the term monokini seems to have stemmed from the belief that the bi in bikini means ‘two’, therefore the mono in monokini means ‘one’, as in one piece.

For more information on Monokinis try Wikipedia, MessyNessyChic, onthisdayinFashion or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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