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the history of the string bikini

The little black dress, the perfect white shirt, the oxblood riding boot. May we add string bikini to this list of classics? It’s not an automatic yes. Questions arise: Is the string bikini just slightly too racy to make it into classic territory? Are string bikinis in fact too small to be thought of as clothes? Finally, three words: female body builders.

All arguments against fail when you look at an actual woman in an actual string bikini and see that it just has the undeniable rightness of good fashion. The best thing about any human form is its symmetry, and the string bikini is probably the garment that does the most to make this point.

There’s that, and there’s the fact that if you end up somewhere and need a bathing suit, you can often get a perfectly serviceable string bikini at a beach store or even a large drugstore for about the same price as two bottles of sunscreen.

Invented in 1946 by French automobile designer Louis Réard, the bikini was the result of a contest between Réard and a fellow designer to create the world’s smallest bathing suit (clearly this is what French men did before they moved on to discussing boring books on television). Réard won (let us raise high our flutes of authentic Champagne, s’il vous plaît). The string bikini, by most accounts, was the first bikini, Réard’s vision, and in our opinion it remains the best, unimproved upon by ruffles, boy-shorts or extra fabric.

The string bikini makes two simple promises: (1) I will minimally cover the parts of the body that can’t be shown in public. (2) I will stay on. The rest is up to you. This sounds like a lot of responsibility. However, while no one would suggest that you down a dozen brioches, a rack of lamb and four milkshakes a day for a month and then go string-bikini shopping, it is by far the most flattering of bikinis. If you have an amazing body, the string bikini will not only make that plain as day; it will do so without any silly distractions from your grace, beauty and annoying luck. If your body is merely decent but not quit-your-day-job award-winning, the string bikini, unlike other bathing suits, will not squeeze and puff the extraneous bits of flesh on your body into unsightly mounds and ridges. Those strings, which sound so scary, so naked-making, are actually more forgiving to one’s figure than more fabric could ever be, and yet the fact that you are wearing tiny bits of fabric tenuously tethered to your body suggests that you do not even worry about such things, which is, of course, very sexy.

If you have very large breasts, and if those breasts happen to be the creation of nature rather than a medical professional, you probably can’t wear a string-bikini top. Or you can, but you might not want to walk around in it. There are plenty of mix-and-match places where you can outfit yourself with a string bottom and a more structured top. If you’re flat-chested, well, you’re lucky, because the string bikini truly looks best at its smallest (anyone who thinks that a suit that “adds two cup sizes” is a good thing has clearly never seen Kate Moss in a string bikini).

By the way, though there’s something to be said for the summery joy of a sparkly embellishment, we tend to prefer solid colors, which let the flesh do the talking. A string bikini says to the world: “I’m hot—deal with it.” And while there’s surely already a T-shirt for sale in a mall that reads “I’m hot—deal with it,” the message is so much more convincingly communicated by four little triangles.

Image courtesy of CN Digital Studio

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