The Hero Piece: Bikini

It's the season to show some skin

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Art Direction: Sabrina Scott

“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're thirty-four.” - Nora Ephron in I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.

Now what do I know about being a woman? Nothing. But having worked as a lifeguard for a decade and then at men’s magazines for ten years after that means I have a doctorate in bikinis. And come on, Nora – 34? There's no need to stop the bikini-wearing then.

Even if you weren’t lucky enough to win at life like I did, then you’ve probably committed a few of the bikini's most memorable movie moments to memory instead.

From sepia-toned films of old – think Ursula Andress’ entrance in Dr. No, that white number complete with knife holster, or Bo Derek’s gold bikini in 10, which distracted us from the fact that she wore her hair like a German tourist. Maybe it was Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Phoebee Cates in her red two-piece that did it for you? Or perhaps you’ll think no further than Denise Richards and the blue suit she wore in the almost blue Wild Things. And then, who can deny that the wardrobe department made Spring Breakers watchable. 

Well it’s strange to think that the truncated two-piece can play a leading role in the memorability of movies, but it’s this basic design: two triangles covering the woman’s breasts and two triangles covering the woman’s front and back bums, which, like a spider in the room, once you’ve seen it it’s hard to think of anything else.

The bikini was invented by Frenchman Louis Reard in 1946, who named his design after the Bikini Atoll where the USA was busy initiating peace-time nuclear weapons testing. Because the war machine required all the cotton, silk, nylon, wool, leather, and rubber, and Uncle Sam had issued Regulation L-85, which cut the use of natural fibers in clothing and mandated a 10% reduction in the amount of fabric in women's beachwear, Louis Reard answered back with a swimsuit so small that it could fit into a 2x2 inch box. 

Don Drapers of the time had a field day: “It can’t be called a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring.” “As small and devastating as an atom bomb.” “It reveals everything about a girl except for her mother's maiden name.”

Naturally there were haters, Modern Girl Magazine (who later changed their masthead to Mother Grundy Monthly) said that it was unecessary to waste words over the bikini as it was inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing. History proved them wrong, and French fashion historian Olivier Saillard credits the bikini’s popularity because of "the power of women, and not the power of fashion” and goes on to explain that, "The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women.”

Today the bikini is big business and even before you add-on spin-offs like self-tanning, bikini-waxing and crash diets promising a “bikini body” the small swimsuit is worth a cool US$811 million a year.  

Now there have been attempts to make the bikini even smaller and more revealing – microkini, pubikini, stickini et al – and at the risk of sounding like Modern Girl Magazine, these are not worth mentioning. So without further ado these are the only styles to slip into this summer.

See you on the beach.

Also known as a bandini, or bandeaukini, or tankini, this top has no straps going over the shoulders –making for a better all-over tan. Pro tip: don't hit the water slides in this one. 

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This hot summer update is a sportier cut, well-suited to more than just worshipping the sun. Pull this on and go play beach bats or something – with no fear of wardrobe malfunction.

A must-have for any beach bum’s bikini collection, the effortlessly cool look is the most classic cut. Whether your angles are acute or obtuse, this style will be congruent with your lines.

Women's swimwear of the 1930s and 1940s incorporated increasing degrees of midriff exposure, with some thinking it indecent to expose the belly button. The high waist harks back to those early days giving this suit some old-world glamour.  

Need a lift? With straps or without, the structured balconette does an excellent job of shaping breasts and creating cleavage. It provides less coverage than other styles, so "If you've got it, flaunt it" girls have just found their new beachside best friend.

A 90s-inspired swimsuit that shows off your collarbones, balances your silhouette, shapes the shoulders and frames the chest. What's not to like? The right halter-neck will provide plenty of support, even if you're a bigger cup size, so prepare to dominate at volleyball.

This is not your school swimming costume. The one-piece swimsuit is a lot more versatile these days with edgy prints, details, cutouts, peplums and crochets, plus the old-school glamour that a sleek, simple style offers. Add a big hat, oversized sunglasses and a large poolside cocktail.