The Traditional Monokini

Definitive & Sexy. My Personal Signature Swimsuit

Arguably the modern monokini is regarded as the sexiest swimsuit a woman could wear. It looks nothing like Rudi Gernreich’s original 1964 monokini (see photo below) which, while astoundingly controversial, was technically nothing more than a maillot cut off just below the bust with a couple of supporting straps. It was not something you were ever destined to see at the pool or beach. Unfortunately for Rudi Gernreich, too many people have used the word ‘monokini’ to describe something that wasn’t his intention. He had intended to 'free' the female breast in an age that forced breasts into unnatural shaped cups. While he was certainly responsible for the term 'monokini', he was not its original creator. Ancient Egyptian and Greek art shows women in water scenes wearing short cotton skirts that were waisted just below the bust and held up by the same two straps. It's not a big jump to turn that skirt into shorts. There have also been a number of much earlier undergarments and tummy control devices that look identical in outward appearance. What he did was not create a new garment, but in my opinion, suggested wearing an old design as the total outfit to make a political statement ... it's up to you to decide whether you think he was successful at least in making any statement. Interestingly, Gernreich also incorrectly credits himself with having invented the thong, something else that is shown in the art of many ancient societies and was, in his time, a current Japanese undergarment. Remember that back in the 50's and 60's, information and travel were only for the elite classes so for many this would have been the first time they'd seen such garments.

A photo of Rudi Gernreich's monokini. Historically I believe the model, Peggy Moffit, had only agreed to model the extremely controversial garment if her husband photographed it. 

Traditionally the term monokini has since referred to a bikini bottom held in place by two straps which, at least partially, cover the breasts. When this garment first came out, the target consumer was typically 20-30 years of age, very slim, tall, had a full firm bust and wanted to show as much of it off as possible. She was well off, very fashion conscious, and has a particular occasion in mind for wearing a special swimsuit (you’re more likely to see her at a champagne pool party than lying on the beach). 

Much to the chagrin of surfwear labels, monokinis initially had a very limited market. They tried to add the traditional monokini to their range in either the hope that teenage beach goers would buy them or the more fashion conscious buyers might be tempted to start wearing their label. 

I'm really not sure I understand their logic. This teenage demographic is more interested in a traditional bikini to fit in with their friends and get a tan, rather than having everyone stare at them (unless, of course, they’re involved in a swimsuit competition). Also, the more fashion conscious buyer seeks a far better quality and fit than surfwear generally offers.

One of my earlier monokinis from 2002. Photograph by Chris Huzzard

While not often considered, the other part to Gernreich’s monokini principle was simplicity. A garment should have minimal construction and detailing to ensure the body remains the focal point. Again if you consider the client, she is more likely to be wearing expensive jewellery at her pool party. Keep the garment construction simple (as few cut panels as possible), one colour and free of accessories. 

The photo above illustrates the pattern we're going to make. This pattern is based on the Women’s One Piece Block we created previously (using 12% horizontal negative ease and 0% vertical ease). Before you start each step, take a good look at the illustration to help you follow the drafting process. At the end of each step your draft should match the illustration.

Step One

Begin by drawing a vertical guide line through the bust point from above the shoulder all the way down to the leg line. The halter neck extends approximately 7cm beyond the shoulder line for a strap about 2cm wide. If you design a wider strap, you may need to lengthen it a little.

I like to lengthen the appearance of the garment by lowering the leg line at the side seam about 2-3cm … draw another guide line here.

Mark a guide 7cm each side of the bust point and 4.5cm each side of the guide line at the waist. 

Step Two

Approximately draft in the new leg line by extending the side seam down to the guide. 

Draft in the halter neck symmetrically around the vertical guide. It should join the bust line at a right angle on both sides and be smooth and gradual. The red dotted line shows how to use the guide for a string tie. These lines are purely a matter of style. You can make them narrower or wider, higher or lower, whatever is your taste. The span of 14cm across the bust is about as narrow as you want to go for stability without a side tie string. With a side tie string you can design a much narrower panel. Just consider what is tasteful for your market if you hope to sell the garment.

Step Three

Draft in the curves between the bust and the waist by joining between the guide lines. Again stay at right angles to the bust line and waist line. 

How low you want to take the curve at the centre front is again a matter of style, but it must be above the highest point of leg line or you have broken the tension line running around the body. Try to stay at least 2cm above the leg line, the more the better and the less likely the garment will distort into rippling. Your curve should also not extend beyond a line between the bust point and centre crotch (dotted blue line) or the bust will pull to centre back where the tension is higher. 

The centre back should not be lower than the leg line for the same reason as the centre front.

Step Four

Trace the back panel and join it to the front at the side seam. The pattern can benefit from a little dart being taken out by rotating the back panel about 5° clockwise. Re-curve the leg line smoothly. 

Draft in a curve to join the centre back to the front panel staying as close to your guides as possible while still having a smooth gradual curve. I tend to create a new side seam at what seems a counter intuitive angle. From behind this seam better outlines the bottom and of course it's much easier to line up in the machine room. The drawback is it doesn't sit that well on the shelf. I've also suggested a lower back line as an option.

Step Five

Remove unnecessary guidelines. If necessary retrace the front and back panels. Add seam allowance to the pattern based on how you intend to assemble it. I've shown this pattern with 10mm allowance for overlocked seams (8mm to blade plus 2mm off cut) and 10mm allowance for folding over 9mm elastic. If you were to use a binder attachment to apply the elastic and casing fabric to the edge, then you wouldn’t need any seam allowance on those particular seams. Finally, be sure to clearly label your pattern pieces with a title, panel name, garment size, cutting instructions, author’s name, date and revision number.

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