A monokini, sometimes referred to as a unikini, is a woman's one-piece garment comprising only the lower half of a bikini, leaving the breasts uncovered. The term monokini is also used for any topless swimsuit, particularly a bikini bottom worn without a bikini top.
In 1964, Rudi Gernreich (also spelt Rudy Gernreich), an Austrian-American fashion designer, designed the original monokini in the US. Gernreich also was the first to use the name, and the word monokini is first recorded in English that year. He envisioned the design in 1962, and an earlier prototype was printed by the Look magazine in 1963 as part of an article on futuristic fashions. The actual design was first printed by Look the next year, with a prostitute from the Bahamas as the original model. Gernreich's monokini looked like a one-piece swimsuit suspended from two halter straps in the cleavage of bared breasts. It had only two small straps over the shoulders, leaving the breasts bare. Despite the reaction of fashion critics and church officials, shoppers purchased the monokini in record numbers that summer, though very few monokinis were ever worn in public. By the end of the season, Gernreich had sold 3000 swimsuits at $24 a piece, which meant a tidy profit for such a minuscule amount of fabric. The novelty of the design caught significant attention, and San Francisco Chronicle featured a woman in a monokini with her exposed breasts clearly visible on its first page.
The photograph of Peggy Moffitt, the famous model for the infamous suit and Gernreich's muse, in a monokini shot by her husband William Claxton became a celebrated document of the extremism of 1960s designs. The photograph appeared in Women's Wear Daily, Life and numerous other publications, catapulting Moffitt into instant celebrity, reportedly deluged in everything from marriage proposal to death threats. Moffitt and Claxton later wrote the The Rudy Gernreich Book, a aesthetic biography of the fashion revolutionary, which was published by Taschen GmbH in 1999 (ISBN 3822871974).
The monokini of Gernreich, a declared nudist, was introduced at a time when US naturists were trying to establish their ways. The United States Postmaster General banned nudist publications from the mail, and naturist camps were resisted by authorities. Only in 1958, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the naked body in and of itself could not be deemed obscene. Moffitt said it was a logical evolution of Gernreich's avant-garde ideas in swimwear design as much as a scandalous symbol of the permissive society. She also said, "He was trying to take away the prurience, the whole perverse side of sex." In the 1960s, the monokini led the way into the sexual revolution by emphasizing a woman's personal freedom of dress, even when her attire was provocative and exposed more skin than had been the norm during the more conservative 1950s.
Quickly renamed as a "topless swimsuit", it was not very successful in the USA, where people have never accepted it for the beach, although both genders were allowed equal exposure above the waist. The Soviet government called it "barbarism" and a sign of social "decay". The New York City Police Department was strictly instructed to arrest any woman wearing a monokini by the commissioner of parks. John Shelley, the Mayor of San Francisco (1964–1968), quipped, "topless is at the bottom of porn." In Chicago, a 19-year-old woman was fined US$100 for wearing a monokini on a public beach. Copious coverage of the event helped to send the image of exposed breasts across the world. Women's clubs and the church were particularly active in their condemnation. In Italy and Spain, the church warned against the topless fashion. Even in Saint-Tropez, French Riviera, it was banned. Jean-Luc Godard, a founding mover of French New Wave cinema, incorporated monokini footage shot by Jacques Rozier in Riviera into his film A Married Woman. But, it was edited out by the censors.
On June 22, 1964, the Condor Club in North Beach, San Francisco, California decided to have go-go dancers in monokini, thus creating the first topless bar. Carol Doda, who was working for the club and was also one of first women in United States to have silicone implants for breast augmentation, became the first topless dancer in the United States. Doda rapidly became a voice of sexual freedom, while topless restaurants, shoeshine parlors, ice-cream stands and girl bands proliferated. Journalist Earl Wilson wrote in his syndicated column, "Are we ready for girls in topless gowns? Heck, we may not even notice them." English designers created topless evening gowns inspired by the idea. The Examiner published a real estate advertisement that promised "bare top swimsuits are possible here". Rudi Gerenrich said in television interview, "It may well be a bit much now. But, just wait. In a couple of years topless bikinis will be a reality and regarded as perfectly natural." When San Francisco Police Department arrested Doda on indecency charges in April 22, 1965, hundreds of agitators gather outside the police department calling for release of Doda and Mario Savio, free speech activist held in the same station.
Like all swimsuits, the monokini bottom portion of the swimsuit can vary in cut. Some have g-string style backs, while others provide full coverage of the rear. The bottom of the monokini may be high cut, reaching to the waist, with high cut legs, or may be a much lower cut, exposing the belly button. The modern monokini, which is less racy than Gernreich's original design, takes its design from the bikini, and is also described as "more of a cut-out one-piece swimsuit", with designers using fabric, mesh, chain, or other materials to link the top and bottom sections together, though the appearance may not be functional, but rather only aesthetic.
In the 2000s, the term came into use for topless bathing by women: where the bikini has two parts, the monokini is the lower part. Where monokinis are in use, the word bikini may jokingly refer to a two-piece outfit consisting of a monokini and a sun hat. Men's bikinis are also called monokinis. As many women who want to sunbathe topless simply wore the bottom part of a bikini, manufacturers and retailers adapted to selling tops and bottoms separately.
In 1985, Rudi Gernreich unveiled the lesser known pubikini, a bathing suit in the form of a tiny V-shaped fabric strip meant to expose pubic hair, as his last creation a few days before his death in Los Angeles.