What Is a Tankini? What You Need to Know

Practical and fashionable, stylish and sporty –– what piece of swimwear represents this duality better than the tankini? For those of us who like the simplicity of a bikini but crave some extra coverage, the tankini has long been a no-brainer. But for those who may be unfamiliar with the style, here’s a quick guide to get you familiar with this timeless staple of swimwear.

A Brief History of the Tankini

Modesty Over All: Early Swimdresses and One-Piece Suits

Before the mid-20th century, the storied history of swimwear in the United States often stressed modesty over practicality. Believe it or not, women used to be accompanied into the ocean by bathing machines and modesty hoods which concealed them from public view. Unwieldy, stiff swimming dresses weren’t exactly ideal for any sporting activity.

By the 1930s, many brands and fashion designers had embraced the one-piece suit as the standard women’s swimming wear. Swimming became a more common pastime for all classes in the US, encouraged both for leisure and to maintain physical fitness. Sporty sleeveless suits with brief-like bottoms became the norm.

The Dawn of the Two-Piece: Bikinis and Tankinis

The invention of the two-piece bikini is most often credited to French designer Louis Réard in 1946. Though considered scandalous at first, the bikini was eventually popularized by Bridget Bardot and other stars on the big screen. These suits of the 50s had high-waisted bottoms that slimmed the tummy while emphasizing the curvy hourglass figures that were so en vogue at the time.

Finally, the tankini made its entrance in the 1990s through designer Anne Cole. During this decade, the tankini thrived as the perfect balance between modesty and freedom. While the early 2000s saw a brief decline in popularity for the style, the resurgence of 90s fashion has certainly brought the tankini back to its former glory. With high-waisted bottoms being particularly sought after this time around, the tankini is officially here to stay.

Simply Put: What Is a Tankini?

Also referred to as a “rash guard” or “cami top,” the tankini is a two-piece swimsuit that features more coverage than your standard bikini. Though the length of the top can vary, it generally reaches below the midriff –– perfect for a bit of extra tummy control. While most tankinis have straps, some can have capped or long sleeves. Paired either with briefs, shorts, or even swim skirts, the tankini stands perfectly between sporty and chic.

Why Do We Love Tankinis?

What exactly has contributed to the long-lasting appeal of this tank-topped two-piece? Let’s take a deeper dive into the advantages of this garment, both in terms of style and functionality.

Mix-and-Match Versatility

One of the things that women love about bikinis is how you can swap out any bottom for any top. Well, the same goes for a tankini! Easily removable tops and bottoms make personalization a cinch.

Pro-Tip: A great first step is owning a pair of black or navy tankini bottoms –– after that, you will find an endless array of tankini tops that you can combine with!

On-the-Go Ease

While a lot of tankinis have the coverage of a one-piece suit, they can actually be a lot more practical. Have you ever tried to peel your way out of a wet one-piece? It can be a struggle. With a tankini, it’s a much simpler task. Now you can take a quick bathroom break or change from your beach getup to your afternoon attire with ease.

Easy Breezy Coverage

One of the main reasons the tankini is so popular is the coverage it offers. While some tankinis are designed to show little peaks of skin, many tankini tops offer the same coverage as a regular tank top, which means you can enjoy its belly-smoothing effect. Wearing a tankini, it’s easy to feel comfortable and confident.

Fun in the Sun Without the Burn

No matter what age, protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays should always be of utmost importance. Wearing a tankini, you don’t have to worry about those painful sunburns on your back or stomach that always seem to appear after falling asleep on your beach towel. Just don’t forget to slap on the sunscreen everywhere else!

Support Where You Need It

With bikini tops, you often risk unwanted spillage or you simply have to accept the fact that many bathing suits offer your bust zero support. Many tankinis, however, come with built-in cups, underwire, or molding to lift and secure your bust. That way, you can enjoy a full range of motion without any worries.

Types of Tankinis

Tankinis come in a whole range of styles. While the list is technically endless, here are some common variations of the classic tankini to consider.


The two-tier tankini features two overlapping layers of flowing fabric; this loose fit is a chic way to hide a bit of tummy. It can have the flattering effect of an hourglass figure by creating a visual division on the torso.

Three Tier

The three-tier tankini takes the midriff coverage of the tankini and takes it up a notch (or three). For a fun sense of motion and tummy control, the three-tier tankini is any woman’s best friend.


The bandeau tankini is great for when you want to avoid tan lines on your shoulders. This type of tankini features a straight-across neckline, which is ideal for those of us that want to avoid too much cleavage. Most bandeau tankini tops do come with removable straps, so you have the option to add extra support when you need it.


The skirtini adds a bit of feminine flair to the tankini. Instead of briefs or shorts, a skirtini features swim skirt bottoms. These come with stretchy briefs underneath to give you full coverage at all times.

Blouson Tankini

The blouson tankini is an extra breezy option for those who enjoy maximum comfort. Often featuring a small bow or tie embellishment on the side, blouson tankinis soften up your silhouette with a midriff-masking fit.

Faux Tankini

The faux tankini looks like a regular, two-piece bikini; however, it is actually a one-piece. While it doesn’t have quite the same ease of dressing and undressing as a real two-piece, a faux tankini offers extra security that can come in handy in a rowdy round of beach volleyball.

Major Takeaway

If you have never tried a tankini, now is your chance. With summer just around the corner, it’s the perfect piece of swimwear to usher in the sunny season. Offering the best of functionality and freedom, a good tankini is a must-have for any woman’s summer wardrobe. And with all the different types of tankinis available nowadays, there’s bound to be a bold, beautiful style that’s just right for you!


Tankini tops: what happened to the bikini's modest cousin? | Vox

A History of Women's Swimwear | Fashion History

A scandalous, two-piece history of the bikini | Washington Post