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The Origin & Language of the Bathing Suit

Woo-hoo! Time for some fun in the sun! Put on that bikini or speedo and let’s head to the pool for some splish-splashing…

What’s that? Oh, right, of course. You’d like to know where all those names for your swimming trunks originated before you actually go outside and run on the sandy beaches. Well who wouldn’t want to know? So let’s get to it so you can head outside and start regretting you forgot the sunscreen!


The Bikini

Of course we have to start with this swimsuit. When people think of “summer” or “pool” they undoubtedly get an image ladies in bikinis. Most people know that bikinis caused quite a stir when women started wearing them in the 1940s. In fact, the tiny swimsuit’s predecessors also raised some eyebrows, with women like Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman being put under arrest for indecency, simply because her outfit was form-fitting.

However, many don’t know that the earliest bikinis date back almost 2000 years! Art dating from around 300 AD depicts women of the era exercising in what appears to be bikinis. As such, they have been dubbed the “Bikini Girls.”

The term for the swimsuit came from its modern designer, Louis Reard, after the Bikini Atoll. That same year, the set of islands was used as testing for nuclear bombs. Louis figured the reaction to the swimsuit would be similar to a bomb going off…and he was right! But what does “bikini” mean in its native Marshallese language?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary: “surface coconut.” Take that as you will.


The Speedo

Like Kleenex or Tylenol, Speedo is now known as the name of the item it makes. In this case it’s swim briefs, the tiny little swimsuits some guys think they can pull off. There are several types of swim briefs, designed for purposes from racing to posing. In the US we typically see trunks or board shorts more than swim briefs, but in some European countries the opposite is true.

The company Speedo actually got its start in underwear. When World War 1 hit, it expanded to socks, which provided enough money to further expand into swimwear. The more aerodynamically streamlined the swimsuits got, the more controversial they became. Australian Clare Dennis was almost disqualified for showing too much shoulder (if you can believe it) in the 1932 Olympic Games.

Years before, Speedo founder Alexander McRae held a contest within his staff to come up with the name for his speedy swimwear. The winner came up with the slogan, “Speed on in your Speedos,” and history was made!


Vintage MaillotBefore the skinny little two-piece bikini there was the one-piece maillot. Honestly, nobody really calls the one-piece a maillot anymore, and it’s almost solely relegated to the world of fashion. This is because there are several types of maillots, including the tank maillot and the pretzel maillot.

The term itself comes from the French language phrase for “swaddling clothes.” The term is still used in France; the French term for swimsuit is maillot de bain. Further, a maillot is also called a tank suit. This “tank” in question is of course the tank or pool in which the wearer frolics!

What You Shouldn’t Wear

MankiniLike a man in a banana hammock there are just some suits that should stay in the closet at home.

There’s the Sugarcreek, Ohio man who was arrested in 2009 for harassing people while wearing a maillot. Yes, a woman’s one piece swim suit.

Then there are those new full bodied Speedos, apparently they help you swim faster; of course, that’s they haven’t torn a hole in the crotch, dragging gallons of water behind you. You might recall when Beijing relay gold medalist Ricky Berens tore the back of his swimsuit in a qualifying heat of the 4x100m relay freestyle during the World Swimming Championships in Rome.

Take our advice, whether a maillot or a speedo, pick a swim suit this summer that fits well and makes you look good. You might say, one that speaks your language.