Arguably the modern monokini is regarded as the sexiest swimsuit a woman could wear. It looks nothing like Rudi Gernreich’s 1964 monokini (see image 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 credits himself with having invented the thong, something else that is shown in the art of many ancient societies and was at the time a current Japenese undergarment. Remember that back in the 50′s and 60′s, information and travel were ony for the elite classes so for many this would have been the first time they’d seen such garments. Traditionally the term monokini has since referred to a bikini bottom held in place by two straps which, at least partially, cover the breasts. I’ve been unable to find 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. In the mean time you’ll have to make do with a sketch.
Much to the surprise of surfwear labels, monokini’s have a very limited market. Rather than try to design a monokini for your market, consider first if your market might purchase a monokini. The woman is typically 20-30 years of age, very slim, tall, has a full firm bust and wants to show as much of it off as possible. She is usually 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).
Many surfwear labels have tried to add the traditional monokini to their range in either the hope that teenage beach goers will 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). The more fashion consious buyer seeks a far better quality and fit than surfwear generally offers. This is one of my designs from back in 2003. It really should not have a center strap holding each side in place to be considered a traditional monokini. This gives the garment stability, especially for larger busts, and makes the garment more acceptable in retail.
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 jewelry at her pool party. Keep the garment construction simple (as few cut panels as possible), one colour and free of accessories.
The above photo illustrates the pattern we’re going to make. This pattern is based on the size 10B/C one piece block we created previously (using 12% horizontal negative ease and 0% vertical ease). Before you start each step, look carefully at the illustration for that step as it will help guide you through the instructions. At the end of each step your draft should match the illustration. If it doesn’t go back to the start of that step and work your way through again.
Begin by drawing a vertical guide line through the bust point. I like to lengthen the appearance of the garment by lowering the leg line at the side seam about 2-3cm. Mark a guide 7cm each side of the bust point and 4.5cm each side of the guide line at the waist. 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. Alternatively you could use a string tie instead of a halter strap. If so, create a guide line horizontal to the base of the front neck.
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 go much narrower. Just think about what is tasteful to your market if you hope to sell the garment.
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 center 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 center crotch (dotted blue line) or the bust will pull to center back where the tension is higher. The center back should not be lower than the leg line for the same reason as the center front.
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. Recurve the leg line smoothly. Draft in a curve to join the center 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.
Remove unnecessary guidelines. Cut out or retrace the front and back Panels. Be sure to clearly label your pattern pieces with a title, panel name, size, cutting instructions, author’s name, date and revision number. Finaly, 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, 2mm off cut) and 10mm allowance for folding over 9mm elastic.