Why we're in a 'one-piece moment'

Story highlights

  • Style experts say the one-piece is the fashion-forward choice this season
  • Swimwear trends will be on display this weekend at Miami Swim Week
  • The one-piece is a perfect canvas for sporty and sexy styles
  • The modern version of the one-piece dates back to 1980s, historian says

"Less is more" has reigned at the beach and the neighborhood pool when it comes to swimwear ever since the popularization of the bikini in the 20th century.

Two-piece bathing suits might dominate the landscape, but style editors and trend forecasters say the one-piece is the "fashion-forward" choice this season.

"Most people are going to be in two-pieces. If you show up in a one-piece it's definitely a statement, and it's one of the most comfortable statements you could possibly make at the beach," said Connie Wang, style director of lifestyle website Refinery29.

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"It's a good thing for women that there are so many more options now that fulfill different desires of what you want to achieve at the beach."

Variations on the one-piece and other swimwear trends will be on display at Miami Swim Week, where designers and buyers will gather this weekend for two major industry events: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim and SwimShow.

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Surf-inspired looks, such as rash vests and long-sleeved onesies for women, are expected to make strong showings, said Jane Boddy, head of womenswear at trend forecaster WGSN. On the flip side, ultra-feminine styles flaunting details rooted in the world of intimates -- ruffles, straps and peek-a-boo cutouts -- "are also key and on the cusp of big success," she said.

    The one-piece is the perfect canvas for showcasing both styles, whether you prefer ruffles and lace or animal prints.

    "The one-piece has become popular again because it reflects the best of both worlds. It looks back to the past with a retro slant, while also retaining a fresh, forward-looking style," Boddy said.

    "The development in cutting-edge design is the driving force behind the one-piece movement, as is the emergence of active sports in the apparel market," Boddy said. "We're beginning to see these looks filtering into swim, too, and that's exciting."

    While the bikini holds the undisputed title for the sexiest swimsuit option, let's not forget iconic moments for the one-piece such as Farrah Fawcett's ubiquitous red bathing suit poster and Bo Derek's emergence from the ocean in "10." More recently, when Kim Kardashian decided to show off her post-baby body on Instagram, she did it in a one-piece, proving that it is possible to flaunt a great body and get (slightly) more coverage at the same time.

    Jumpstarted by the "Mad Men"-inspired retro craze permeating all aspects of fashion, one-pieces are now easier than ever to find in a variety of styles, cuts and prints on the racks of department stores and high-end boutiques.

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    "Retro-fit swimsuits are flattering to a multitude of body types, but they also offer a whimsical take on swim and beach outfits," Refinery29's Connie Wang said.

    In recent years, the retro craze has given way to bathing suit styles inspired by the 1990s with an emphasis on high-cut legs, scoop necks and backs, think Pamela Anderson in "Baywatch" or "American Apparel." J.Crew pledged to reissue a discontinued scoop-back swimsuit after a New York magazine contributor penned an impassioned plea asking them to resurrect it.

    "People are valuing mobility and athleticism and actually being able to do stuff in the stuff you're wearing," Wang said.

    The modern version of the one-piece dates back to the 1980s, when the fitness craze contributed to an emphasis on sportiness, mobility and functionality in swimwear, said fashion historian Valerie Steele. At the same time, the "retro sexy" look of the 1950s and 1960s started coming back into style, after a period when two-pieces and unstructured one-pieces ruled swimwear.

    Developments in textiles allowed designers to create more flattering and functional styles, allowing bathing beauties to choose between "heightened eroticism or heightened athleticism," said Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

    Since then, the one-piece never really went out of style, but the pendulum has swung back in its favor, she said.

    "We are in a one-piece moment."

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      • MIAMI, FL - JULY 22:  A model walks the runway at the Beach Riot show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2014 at Cabana Grande at the Raleigh on July 22, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by  for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2014)

        Bikinis might dominate the beaches, but style editors and trend forecasters say the one-piece is the "fashion-forward" choice this season.