A swimsuit or bathing suit is an item of clothing designed to be worn for swimming. Swimsuits are typically skin-tight clothing, 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 fabric that assures that they do not become transparent when wet.

Swimsuits are generally designed to cover at least the genitalia. In some cultures women's swimsuits also cover the breasts (or at least the nipples); for pre-pubescent girls they may or may not cover the chest.

Woman's bathing suit, 1920s, USA

Men's swimsuits tend to be either shorts or briefs. Women's swimsuits are generally either one-piece swimsuits or bikinis. Also there is the monokini, in case the coverage of the breasts is neither required nor desired. However, special swimsuits for competitive swimming, designed to reduce skin drag, can resemble unitards.

Swimsuits are also worn for the purpose of body display in beauty pageants. The magazine Sports Illustrated has an annual "swimsuit issue" that features models and sports personalities in swimsuits.

Swimsuits are also worn on beaches and around swimming pools (even if no swimming is involved). Many authorities believe that children of both sexes should also wear T-shirts outdoors on sunny days to protect from sunburn.

Women's "high-thigh" swimsuits can reveal pubic hair, and some swimsuit wearers choose to depilate their pubic hair because they would feel embarrassed by its exposure.

Styles of swimsuit:

  • One-piece swimsuits:
    • maillot
    • tank
    • pretzel suit
    • plunge front
    • halter-neck
    • monokini
  • Two-piece swimsuits:
People who have no swimsuit with them (because they did not plan to go swimming, or because they forgot, or because they do not have a swimsuit at all) may, depending on modesty, use trousers or underpants as make-shift swimsuit (women possibly with an additional T-shirt). At beaches norms for this tend to be more relaxed than at swimming pools (especially indoor ones).


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 c. 1960. After this, the notion of special water apparel seems to have been lost for centuries.

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 sewed 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 sholder 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, with the purpose of avoiding exposure of people in swimsuits (even though these were very modest by today's standards), especially to people of the opposite sex.

With the start of the 20th century, bathing wear began being less conservative, first uncovering the arms and then the legs up to mid-thigh. Collars receeded from up around the neck down to about mid-way between the neck and nipples. The development of new fabrics allowed for new varieties of more comfortable and practical swim wear.

On some beaches in the United States, men were prohibited from going topless as late as the 1930s.

Due to the figure-hugging nature of these garments, glamor photography of the 1940s and 1950s often featured people wearing swimsuits.

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 mid-riff. They were named after Bikini Atoll, the site of 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.

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.

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