Perhaps there is no member more iconic in the -kini family (which includes the bi-, the mono-, and the tank-) than that one worn by males: the mankini. At Sunday night’s Emmy ceremony, Matthew Morrison of Glee announced that his character may be donning a gold lamé “banana hammock” at some point next season.
The mankini, which is a unitard akin to joining a jock strap with suspenders, is not for the faint of heart—its wearer must be confident, bold, and intent on making a statement.
Gallery: Mankinis Through the Years
Over the last few years, mankinis have gotten some serious play in the media, and a surge in popularity, thanks to Borat’s 2006 neon green display, which may have provoked subsequent stunts from John Mayer, seeking attention as a Borat lookalike, and Jim Carrey, in then-girlfriend Jenny McCarthy’s sleek black halter-top bathing suit, which became a mankini as soon as her boyfriend slipped it on. In 2008, Alexander McQueen gave the “trend” some credibility by putting a beige and black mankini on his runway. (For those whose pockets aren’t deep enough for the “McQueeni,” as it was immediately dubbed, Amazons still sells a version for $17.99.)
After 2008’s high-water mark, the mankini faded into obscurity, a novelty item from a notorious film. But Morrison’s act might bring it back from the shadows—just imagine a version of American Apparel’s “Shiny Halter Bodysuit,” minus cleavage and plus testosterone.
The sling-suits trace their sartorial roots to traditional one-piece men’s bathing costumes, like Johnny Depp’s in Sweeney Todd. But through the decades, the amount of fabric in this special men’s swimsuit has receded, just like hemlines. Even contemporary wrestling uniforms conjure up the general idea of a mankini (or just add straps to Schwarzenegger’s Speedo). The word origin is a bit of a misnomer: Designer Louis Reard named his suit after Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific, so -kini is not exactly etymologically correct (not to mention historically fraught). “Kini,” however, is a girl’s name in Japanese, meaning “God is gracious”—so, when you see Matthew Morrison in his mankini, you can say to yourself, “ Man, God is gracious.”
Claire Howorth is the Arts editor at the Daily Beast.