A swimsuit, bathing suit, or swimming costume is an item of clothing designed to be worn by men, women or children while they are engaging in a water-based activity or water sports, such as swimming, water polo, diving, surfing, water skiing, or during activities in the sun, such as sun bathing. A swimsuit can be worn as an undergarment in sports that require a wetsuit such as water skiing, scuba diving, surfing, and wakeboarding. Swimsuits are also worn when there is a need to display the body, as in the case of beauty pageants or bodybuilding contests. Glamour photography and magazines like Sports Illustrated's annual "swimsuit issue" feature models and sports personalities in swimsuits.

There is a very wide range of styles of modern swimsuits, which vary in relation to body coverage and materials.


Current swimsuit styles

In western culture, men's swimsuit styles include boardshorts, jammers, swim trunks, briefs or "speedos", thongs, and g-strings, in order of decreasing lower body coverage.

Women's swimsuits are generally described as one-piece, bikinis, or thongs. A recent innovation is the burqini, favored by Muslim women, which covers the whole body and head (but not face) in a manner similar to a diver's wetsuit. These are an updated version of full-body swimwear, which has been available for centuries, but conforms with Islam's traditional emphasis on modest dress. In Egypt, the term "Sharia swimsuit" is used to describe full-body swimwear.[1]

Unisex styles

Name Image Description
Rash guard
(also known as rash vest or rashie)
Rashguard.jpg A type of athletic shirt made of spandex and nylon or polyester. Rash guards may be worn as an alternative to wetsuits during warmer weather. They may also offer UV protection.
Wetsuit and Dry suit Surfer in wetsuit carries his surboard on the beach.JPG A close fitting, insulating garment usually made from neoprene or similar material.
Drag suits A pair of shorts or any loose shirts worn over a swimmer's inner swimsuit to increase resistance against the water and build up the swimmer's endurance.
Racing suits Swimsuits made of technologically advanced fabrics biomimetically designed with a surface that mimics the rough shark denticles to reduce drag along key areas of the body. The characteristics of the fabric improve shape retention and increase muscle compression to reduce vibration and retain muscle shape to reduce fatigue and power loss. Available in a variety of cuts such as bodyskin, legskin and kneeskin.

Women's swimsuits

Name Image Descriptione\fe\sf sfde\
(also known as tank suit, maillot)
Sveta from Bobruysk.jpg Probably the most common form of one-piece swimsuit, the tank suit form is inspiration for the subsequent creation of the tank top as a mainstream article of clothing. The name "tank suit" is also supposed to be derived from the term "swimming tank", an obsolete term for what is now called a swimming pool.
(also known as two piece)
2009 Run to the Sun Fashion Show in Anchorage Alaska 11.jpg One piece covers the breasts, the other the groin and buttocks, leaving an uncovered area between the two. Bikinis are available in many stylistic variations. (see Bikini variants)
(also known as two piece)
Red polka tankini.jpg Two piece covers the breasts and stomach (like a tank top), the other the groin and buttocks. Leaves a small gap in between the belly button and the hips. Tankinis are available in many stylistic variations.
(also known as a unikini or topless swimsuit)
Playas del Caribe.jpg Refers to:

(1) A women's swimsuit with one piece that exposes the breasts, originally invented by Rudi Gernreich in 1964, available in many stylistic variations and generally refers to a bikini bottom, or thong worn alone without a top.

(2) A recent trend in women's one-piece swimsuits. It is typically styled so that from the front it looks like a typical one-piece with side cut-outs, but from the back it looks like a bikini. Many monokini styles also include plunging necklines.

Burqini Burqini.jpg Covers the whole body and head (but not face) in a manner similar to a diver's wetsuit.

Men's swimsuits

Name Image Description
Swim briefs
(also known as racing briefs, speedos, competition briefs, bathers, racer bathers)
USC Waterpolo Player.jpg Launched in at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics by Speedo, originally nylon swimwear in the same style as underwear briefs. Swim briefs are now often made of a nylon and spandex composite, while some longer lasting suits are made from polyester. The style varies from a full seat to thong or g-string. Most swim briefs have a beige or white lining on the inside front made of a similar fabric.
Trunks Boy in Swimming Trunks.JPG In the US, this describes a loose, mid-thigh style of swimwear, made of 100% polyester or 100% nylon fabric. They are usually shorter than boardshorts but longer than boxer shorts. They feature a polyester liner inside the shorts. Although trunks have been used as swimwear since the 1940s, their heyday was in 1990s when they were highly popularised thanks in part to TV shows like Baywatch. Today, they have been eclipsed by boardshorts among teenagers and young adults. They remain the norm with older age groups and young children.

In other cultures (particularly the UK) the term 'trunks' is used to describe swim briefs, although it has been increasingly common for any men's swimwear to be generically described as 'trunks'.

Square leg suits Roma Pride 2008.JPG A swimwear style similar to swim briefs, but with a much more conservative cut. They can be compared to boxer briefs but with nylon/spandex composite or polyester fabric.
Swim jammer Man wearing jammer on diving block.jpg A type of men's swimwear worn primarily by competitive athletes, somewhat resembling cycling shorts or compression shorts.
Fundoshi Japanese traditional swimwear FUNDOSHI red rokushaku front photomodel fthong 1.jpg A traditional Japanese style of underwear, sometimes worn as swimwear.

Body coverage

1858 Woman's bathing suit.

Swimsuits can be skin-tight or loose-fitting. They are often lined with another layer of fabric if the outer fabric becomes transparent when wet.

Swimsuits range from designs that almost completely cover the body to designs that expose almost all of the body. The choice of swimsuit will depend on personal and community standards of modesty and on considerations such as how much or how little sun protection is desired, and prevailing fashions. Almost all swimsuits cover the genitals and pubic hair, while most except thongs cover much or all of the buttocks. Most swimsuits in western culture leave at least the head, shoulders, arms, and lower part of the leg (below the knee) exposed. Women's swimsuits generally cover at least the aereola and bottom half of the breasts, but some are designed for the top part of the swimsuit to be removed . In many countries, young girls and sometimes women choose not to wear a swimsuit top, and this can vary with the occasion, location, age, etc. Men's swimsuits which cover the upper body are relatively rare in western culture.

Both men and women may sometimes wear swimsuits covering more of the body when swimming in cold water (see also wetsuit and dry suit). In colder temperatures, the swimwear is needed to conserve body heat and protect the body core from hypothermia.

Competitive swimwear

Some swimsuits are designed specifically for swimming competitions where they may be constructed of a special low resistance fabric. They reduce skin drag, and can resemble unitards. For some kinds of swimming and diving, special bodysuits called diveskins are worn. These suits are made from spandex and provide little thermal protection, but they do protect the skin from stings and abrasion. Most competitive swimmers also wear special swimsuits including partial and full bodysuits, racerback styles, jammers and racing briefs to assist their glide through the water thus gaining a speed advantage (see competitive swimwear).

Unlike regular swimsuits, which are designed mainly for the aesthetic appearances, swimsuits designed to be worn during competitions are manufactured to assist the athlete in swim competitions. They reduce friction and drag in the water, increasing the efficiency of the swimmer's forward motion. The tight fits allow for easy movement and are said to reduce muscle vibration,[2] thus reducing drag. Starting around 2000, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the swimsuits, engineers have taken to designing them to replicate the skin of sea based animals, sharks in particular.[3]

In July 2009, FINA voted to ban non-textile (non-woven) swimsuits in competitive events from 2010. The new policy was implemented to combat the issues associated with performance enhancing costumes, hindering the ability to accurately measure the performance of swimmers. Subsequently, the new ruling states that men's swimsuits may maximally cover the area from the navel to the knee, and women's' counterparts from the shoulder to the knee.[4][5]

Cartoon by George du Maurier in Punch, 1877. Shows men's and children's bathing suits.

Some swimmers use a specialized training suit called drag suits to artificially increase drag during practice. Drag suits are swimwear with an outer layer of looser fabric - often mesh or nylon - to increase resistance against the water and build up the swimmer's endurance. They come in a variety of styles, but most resemble a looser fitting square-cut or swim brief.

Swimwear and hygiene

Germs, bacteria, and mold can grow very quickly on wet bathing suits. Medical professionals warn that wearing damp swimwear for long periods of time can cause a number of infections and rashes in children and adults, and warn against sharing bathing suits with others.[6][7][8] They suggest changing out of a wet bathing suit right away can help prevent vaginal infections and itching in females[9][10] and Tinea Cruris "Jock Itch" in males.[11][12]


In classical antiquity swimming and bathing was done nude. There are Roman murals which show women playing sports and exercising wearing two-piece suits covering the areas around their breasts and hips in a fashion remarkably similar to the present-day bikini. However, there is no evidence that they were used for swimming. All classical pictures of swimming show nude swimmers.

In various cultural traditions one swims, if not in the nude, in a version in suitable material of a garment or undergarment commonly worn on land, e.g. a loincloth such as the Japanese man's fundoshi.

In the United Kingdom until the mid-19th century there was no law against nude swimming, with each town being free to make its own laws. For example, the Bath Corporation official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed, for men:

It is Ordered Established and Decreed by this Corporation that no Male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a Pair of Drawers and a Waistcoat on their bodies.[13]

In rivers, lakes, streams and the sea men swam in the nude, where the practice was common. Those who didn't swim in the nude, stripped to their underwear. The English practice of men swimming in the nude was banned in the United Kingdom in 1860. Drawers, or caleçons as they were called, came into use in the 1860s. Even then there were many who protested against them and wanted to remain in the nude. Francis Kilvert described men's bathing suits coming into use in the 1870s as "a pair of very short red and white striped drawers".[14]

Female bathing costumes were derived from those worn at Bath and other spas. It would appear that until the 1670s nude female bathing in the spas was the norm and that after that time women bathed clothed. Celia Fiennes gave a detailed description of the standard ladies' bathing costume in 1687:

The Ladyes go into the bath with Garments made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen, it does not cling close as other linning, which Lookes sadly in the poorer sort that go in their own linning. The Gentlemen have drawers and wastcoates of the same sort of canvas, this is the best linning, for the bath water will Change any other yellow.[15]

The Bath Corporation official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed, for women:

No Female person shall at any time hereafter go into a Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a decent Shift on their bodies.[13]

The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker was published in 1771 and its description of ladies’ bathing costume is different to that of Celia Fiennes a hundred years earlier:

The ladies wear jackets and petticoats of brown linen, with chip hats, in which they fix their handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their faces; but, truly, whether it is owing to the steam that surrounds them, or the heat of the water, or the nature of the dress, or to all these causes together, they look so flushed, and so frightful, that I always turn my eyes another way.[16]

Penelope Byrde points out that Smollett’s description may not be accurate, for he describes a two-piece costume, not the one piece shift or smock that most people describe and is depicted in contemporary prints. His description does, however, tally with Elizabeth Grant’s description of the guide’s costume at Ramsgate in 1811. The only difference is in the fabric the costumes are made of. Flannel, however, was a common fabric for sea bathing costumes as many believed the warmer fabric was necessary in cold water.[17]

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 sewn 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 shoulder to knees plus a set of trousers with leggings going down to the ankles.

Picture taken circa 1915

In the Victorian era, popular beach resorts were commonly equipped with bathing machines designed to avoid the exposure of people in swimsuits, especially to people of the opposite sex.

In the United States, beauty contests of women in bathing costumes became popular from the 1880s. However, such contests were not regarded as respectable. Beauty contests became more respectable with the first modern "Miss America" contest held in 1921, though less respectable beauty contests continued to be held. Norman Rockwell judged the Miss America 1922 bathing beauty contest along with Howard Chandler Christy and James Montgomery Flagg. They were all unclear as to how to judge the contest. One judge suggested that they judge each part or feature of the body out of ten, then the woman with the total highest score would win. After they had tried the system, they discovered that although one woman might have beautiful individual parts for features, she might not be beautiful over all. So they "...gave up trying to figure out a system and resolved to trust our eyes. It led to squabbles, because all of us didn't see things in the same way, but it was the best we could do." [18]

In 1907, the swimmer Annette Kellerman from Australia visited the United States as an "underwater ballerina", a version of synchronized swimming involving diving into glass tanks. She was arrested for indecent exposure because her swimsuit showed arms, legs and the neck. Kellerman changed the suit to have long arms and legs and a collar, still keeping the close fit that revealed the shapes underneath. She later starred in several movies, including one about her life. She marketed a line of bathing suits and her style of one-piece suits came to be known as "the Annette Kellerman." The Annette Kellerman was considered the most offensive style of swimsuit in the 1920s and became the focus of censorship efforts. [19] [20]

Man and woman in swimsuits, ca. 1910; she is exiting a bathing machine
American 1920s woman's bathing suit

After this, bathing wear started to shrink, first uncovering the arms and then the legs up to mid-thigh. Collars receded from around the neck down to around the top of the bosom. The development of new fabrics allowed for new varieties of more comfortable and practical swim wear.

Due to the figure-hugging nature of these garments, glamour photography since the 1940s and 1950s has often featured people wearing swimsuits. This subset of glamour photography eventually evolved into swimsuit photography exemplified by the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issues.

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 midriff. They were named after Bikini Atoll, the site of several 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. At the same time, fashion designer Rudi Gernreich introduced the monokini, a topless suit for women consisting of a modest bottom supported by two thin straps. Although not a commercial success, the suit opened eyes to new design possibilities. 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. However, the one-piece suit continued to be popular for its more modest approach.

Men's swimsuits developed roughly in parallel to women's during this period, with the shorts covering progressively less. Eventually racing-style "speedo" suits became popular—and not just for their speed advantages. Thongs, G-strings, and bikini style suits are also worn, typically these are more popular in more tropical regions; however, they may also be worn at public swimming pools and inland lakes. But in the 1990s, longer and baggier shorts became popular, with the hems often reaching to the knees. These were often worn lower on the hips than regular shorts.

Alternatives to swimsuits

Since the early twentieth century a naturist movement has developed in western countries that seeks a return to non sexual nakedness when swimming and during other appropriate activities. [21]

Some women prefer to engaging in water or sun activities with the torso uncovered. The practice is often described as "toplessness" or "topfreedom". In some places around the world, nude beaches have been set aside for people who choose to engage in normal beach activities in the nude.

As an alternative to a swimsuit, some people wear trousers, underpants or a T-shirt either as a make-shift swimsuit or because they prefer regular clothes over swimsuits. In some countries, such as Thailand, swimming in regular clothes is the norm while swimsuits are rare. At beaches, this may be more accepted than at swimming pools, which tend not to permit the practice because underwear is unlined, may become translucent, and may be perceived as unclean.

In New Zealand and Australian English

In New Zealand English, swimsuits are almost always called togs or, occasionally, bathers. They are less commonly called "cossies", which along with "bathers" is the Australian term. The term "togs" is less common in other parts of the Commonwealth, where it can also refer to clothes in general.

See also


  1. ^ Hawley, Caroline (2000-09-05). "Warm welcome for 'Sharia swimsuit'". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/910379.stm. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  2. ^ The Speedo Fastskin fsii Swimsuit Story
  3. ^ Swimsuit styles: Competition swimsuits
  4. ^ http://www.fina.org/project/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2537&Itemid=49 FINA General Congress
  5. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/swimming/8161867.stm FINA bans hi-tech suits from 2010
  6. ^ Jamie Lober Bathing Suit Hygiene. McKinney Kids Magazine
  7. ^ Child safety: public swimming pool http://www.essortment.com/family/safetytipspubl_shzp.htm
  8. ^ Hot Tub Rash-(RWI)http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/hot_tub_rash.html
  9. ^ Nyirjesy and Bayer Vaginitis Center, Drexel University College of Medicine
  10. ^ Vaginal itching. Medline article
  11. ^ Jock Itch Crutchfield Dermatology http://www.crutchfielddermatology.com/treatments/jockitch/
  12. ^ Stephen L. Hines, M.D.Intimate Itches http://www.hinesite2020.md/082001.html
  13. ^ a b Quoted in Byrde, Penelope. "That Frightful Unbecoming Dress: Clothes for Spa Bathing at Bath", Costume, No 21, 1987, p.50
  14. ^ Quoted in Cec Cinder, PhD: The Nudist Idea, Ultraviolet Press, Riverside, California: 1998, p. 333. ISBN 9780965208505
  15. ^ Quoted in Byrde, Penelope. "That Frightful Unbecoming Dress: Clothes for Spa Bathing at Bath", Costume, No 21, 1987, pp.48-9
  16. ^ The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, pp.68-9
  17. ^ Jane Austen Society of Australia page on bathing
  18. ^ http://www1.assumption.edu/ahc/vanities/default.html
  19. ^ http://www1.assumption.edu/ahc/vanities/default.html
  20. ^ http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma04/hess/fashion/inthiscorner3.html
  21. ^ British Naturism (BN), ISSN 0406 0264 0406, http://www.bn.org.uk/pages/pages.asp?page_Id=3, retrieved 2011-08-30 

External links

  • Bikini Science—an examination and classification of women's swimwear

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • swimsuit — 1934, from SWIM (Cf. swim) + SUIT (Cf. suit) …   Etymology dictionary

  • swimsuit — [n] bathing suit bathing costume, beach costume, beachwear, bikini, jams, maillot, one piece, swimwear, thong, trunks, two piece; concept 451 …   New thesaurus

  • swimsuit — ► NOUN ▪ a woman s one piece swimming costume …   English terms dictionary

  • swimsuit — [swim′so͞ot΄] n. a garment worn for swimming …   English World dictionary

  • swimsuit — /swim sooht /, n. See bathing suit. [1925 30; SWIM + SUIT] * * * ▪ garment also called  Bathing Suit,         garment designed for wearing while swimming. Sea bathing became popular in the mid 19th century when railroads first made it possible… …   Universalium

  • swimsuit — UK [ˈswɪmˌsuːt] / US [ˈswɪmˌsut] noun [countable] Word forms swimsuit : singular swimsuit plural swimsuits a piece of clothing worn for swimming, especially by women …   English dictionary

  • swimsuit — noun A tight fitting garment worn for swimming. Trisha refused to go swimming with her brother until he helped her find her favorite swimsuit. Syn: bathers, budgie smugglers, cossie, dick stickers, dick togs, dps, grape smugglers, sluggos,… …   Wiktionary

  • swimsuit — [[t]swɪ̱msuːt[/t]] swimsuits N COUNT A swimsuit is a piece of clothing that is worn for swimming, especially by women and girls. Syn: bathing suit …   English dictionary

  • swimsuit — noun Date: 1926 a suit for swimming or bathing …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • swimsuit — (Roget s 3 Superthesaurus) n. swim shorts, swimming trunks, bathing suit, *jams, bikini, two piece, T back, swimwear …   English dictionary for students

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