When Did Bikinis Get So Small?

Photo: Courtesy of GCDS.
Last summer, during a week-long stint at my mom’s house on Lake Michigan, I stepped into the kitchen wearing a red bikini. Heading for the door toward the front yard, I heard something I hadn’t since high school, when I far too frequently wore tops as dresses, sans pants and paired with platform heels. “You can’t wear that,” my mom gestured at my swimsuit. “I have neighbors.” Apparently, my string bikini was too skimpy for the front yard: “You can lay in the back.”
Despite what my mom would like to believe, the size of my bikini wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary in fashion, where we’ve witnessed an ongoing apparel shrinkage over the course of the last year, in particular. When lockdown ended, many fashion-minded individuals hit the streets wearing shorter hemlines, body-hugging fabrics, and garments riddled with cut-outs as they made their way back to social gatherings and yes, parties. The bare-all fashion trend touched the swimsuit sector, too, where the bikinis of today resemble, according to my colleague, Refinery29 Senior News Editor Leora Yashari, “pasties on strings,” rather than garments meant for actual swimming. 
In June of last year, right around the time that I was being scolded for my allegedly tiny bikini, Dua Lipa was debuting an even smaller one. The “Levitating” singer posted a slideshow of mirror selfies featuring an itty-bitty crochet bikini from the Italian brand GCDS that featured Care Bears on the two cups, as well as on the front of the bottoms. While I didn't know that then, Lipa’s barely-there bikini would be but the first of many micro swimsuit trends showcased this year, each one tinier than the one before. 
See: Tarzan bottoms. As the name suggests, the bikini bottom style is made up of a piece of fabric connected to a long string, designed to seemingly show off all the squats you did in lockdown. The hardly-there style swiftly became popular at Instagram-favorite swimwear brands like Frankies Bikinis, Laya Swim, Melissa Simone, and Sommer, and among celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion, Kendall Jenner, and Kourtney Kardashian. 
Then came upside-down bikinis, which, after being spotted on just about every member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, became a viral trend on TikTok, with thousands of creators showcasing new ways to wear string bikinis by flipping and crisscrossing them upside-down and sideways. Though stylish and, erm, versatile, the trend proved to be anything but supportive when I tried it (which is likely why bikinis are designed to be worn right-side-up). That didn’t stop the daring styling method from becoming one of summer’s biggest fads.
During Miami Swim Week in July, yet another teeny-weeny swimwear trend made waves. Flossy styles — bikinis with extra-long strings that can be wrapped around one’s torso, arms, or legs to replace the need for beachside accessories — joined Tarzan bottoms and upside-down bikinis on the catwalk at the annual event, replacing the high-rise and bandeau swimsuits that dominated in previous years. By pulling the strings taut for maximum crisscrossing, the size of the cups shrink, making flossy bikinis the skimpiest of all the micro styles to come out of 2021. Or so we thought. 
Swimwear’s final transition into doll-sized silhouettes culminated on an actual beach, in the Cayman Islands on the set of HBO Max’s FBoy Island — a reality TV show that involves a bevy of, well, fuck boys and nice guys competing for the hearts of three women (or a cash prize, depending on which camp they land in). There, despite the many action-packed dates — think: paddleboarding, horseback riding, and more — “bachelorettes” CJ Franco, Nakia Renee, and Sarah Emig spent a majority of the series’ 10 episodes wearing bikinis so small, they could have only been designed for tanning. In other words: NSFW (not safe for water). Then again, to find love, sometimes you have to take risks. Or, as Vice Astrology Editor Sara David put it, enjoy “tiny nipple privilege.” 
Coming full circle, Lipa appeared on our Instagram timelines last week, once again wearing a crochet bikini from GCDS that left little to the imagination. This time, the suit featured a handknit cannabis leaf on one “cup” — I’m not sure the tiny crochet circle can be considered such — and a daisy on the other. But while Lipa successfully made the slight two-piece look effortless on Instagram, I know what reaction it would prompt from my mother. 
Perhaps we should have expected the summer of pint-sized swimwear. We spent the last year-plus in lockdown, wearing bikinis on our rooftops, fire escapes, and backyards rather than vacation. As such, the styles didn’t have to be practical or stand up against rough waves. All they had to do was keep us from waking up after our post-sun naps with a noticeable tan line, which all of the skimpy swimwear trends do with foolproof results.
Sure, your mom, like mine, probably won't approve. And yes, there's a good chance you'll be sent unwillingly to the back yard. But the resulting Insta will be cute, and really, isn't that all 2021's lineup of swimwear is for?

More from Trends

R29 Original Series