Is the tankini coming back in fashion?


A deep-dive on why the more modest swim top is having a revival.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen almost every scandalous noughties and ’90s trend come back through fashion’s ever-revolving door. From micro mini-skirts, questionable skinny brows and, of course, the controversial return of low-rise bottoms, it’s clear we can’t let go of our obsession with the past. 

Most of these trends triggered think pieces and mixed emotions about why we would welcome back these polarising designs, which were ultimately designed for one body type, as a byproduct of the damaging ‘heroin chic’ era. But there is one more late 2000s look that’s making waves on social media again that I think we can all get around – the tankini. 

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Local label Bye Bambi recently put a swim top design into production, while influencer favourite Frankies Bikinis is also selling its own Tankini Bikini Top in four different colours, including a particularly nostalgic hibiscus print. One of the brands that really convinced me about the resurgence of the tankini was emerging Perth label, Loleia Swim.


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After seeing the distinctively neon-printed Mary-Kate Halter one too many times on my Instagram feed, I was obsessed. Safe to say I wasn’t alone, as the brand has sold out and restocked the floral, lycra design several times since it launched. Like most good trends, the humble tankini truly had its fun in the sun in the late 1900s to early 2000s.

A Vox article suggests the style met a national need in the US at the time for “both for the parents of teen girls who wanted a stopgap before the string bikini and for adult women who desired just a bit of freedom and quite a bit of coverage”. Some might say the tankini peaked when supermodel Kate Moss sported a chic Gucci number on the May 1998 cover of Harper’s Bazaar.


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By 2001, the New York Times reported the tankini’s popularity was already waning, and since then it’s remained quietly in the background while string bikinis and one-pieces reigned supreme. Just reading the word tankini is probably enough to conjure up a memory of you rocking the more modest design at your primary school swim carnival or on a family holiday to Bali.

Maybe you’re shaking your head, calling it daggy. But don’t all the Y2K trends circling back around have a tacky element to them that we’ve since reclaimed? Think the bleach blonde money pieces, trucker caps and cargo pants. It’s arguably the same very thing that makes them cool again.

And if you’re not already convinced, Melbourne designer Emily Watson’s sultry resort and swim collection reimagines the tankini as an avant-garde top fit for the modern-day party girl in 2022. The draped silhouette is made to look like a cluster of bikini tops with multi-way ties and has been worn by the Internet’s ultimate it-girls, Bella Hadid and Emma Chamberlain. I think I can rest my case.


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But why is the tankini back now? Soon Futures strategist and trend forecaster Tully Walter says given our love for nostalgia dressing, it’s “a natural evolution” that we would dig up the “distinctively noughties smart swim essential”. “In the flux of noise and speed of the digital age, today’s cohort of coming-of-age consumers finds security and comfort in images of the past,” Tully explains. 

“From sentimental reboots driving our Netflix watch list to ‘flashback Fridays’ dominating our playlists, the most resonant pop-culture moments of today can be viewed through a rose-tinted lens of decades past. For instance, consider the low-tech aesthetic, fuelled by a thousand tuned in it-girls. However, it’s new tech platforms, such as Depop and TikTok, that have accelerated the popularity of these nostalgic aesthetics.”


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Tully says the past two years delivered a “drastic shakeup to business as usual for the fashion industry”, as TikTok jumpstarted a brand new trend funnel in lieu of traditional trend-setting events like runway shows, red carpets and festivals. “TikTok has quickly become an incubator rather than a diffuser for fashion trends. Giving rise to aesthetics like #Y2K (amassing over 2 billion views), the app has become a nebulous platform for trends, and the fashion industry is paying attention.”

Interestingly, the trend also speaks broadly to fashion’s growing interest in sustainability. I know I’m personally considering the question, ‘Where can I wear this?’, more and more whenever I buy something new. And the fact that a good tankini can be worn for a day at the beach, and nights out, is a win.


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Pairing that with Gen Z’s avid interest in thrifting, upcycling and vintage clothing in general, Tully suggests it was only a matter of time before the TikTok girlies found our old swim tops at Savers anyway. “As young people figure out their identity and style and embark on a fluid journey of discovery, we can expect to see more relics of Y2K unearthed,” she adds. Admittedly, it’s not the next trend I saw making a comeback from the era, but boy am I here for it. 

For more on the history of the tankini try this.

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