Late last month, Aria McManus picked up her phone and read a bizarre headline—even by Fox News standards.
That day, radio pundits Jessica Tarlov and Bill Lobley were discussing two things: “Mueller Breaks His Silence, [and] ‘The Towelkini.’”
Clickbait coverage of McManus' towel/bikini hybrid had been making tabloid and morning TV rounds for the past week, and she had seen her name in People, Cosmopolitan, and on the Today show. “But that Fox News story, I think it really went to a place that I never thought would be a headline,” McManus told The Daily Beast.
Worn alone, the $199 Towelkini is somewhat unwearable—unless you want to risk an indecent exposure citation. The terry cloth kaftan features a hole right at the midsection that can be worn in the front, showing off a stomach, or the back, making it assless.
When worn over a bathing suit, as McManus has styled the Towelkini, it becomes a glorified cover-up.
“I would hang out in it, for sure,” she said. “I walk around in it, lay out on the beach, get a snack, wade in the water.”
One gentle disclaimer: “I do not recommend swimming in too deep of water with it,” the Parsons-trained artist, 29, warned. “It's 100 percent terrycloth, so I would not want it to get too tangled in the ocean or something. But a pool you would be safe in.”
McManus debuted her Towelkini last July for an exhibition at New York’s Special Special gallery. The show’s theme was “SPF,” with artists creating aquatic-themed work. (One piece by Wen-Yu Cai invited visitors to a round of poolside speed dating.)
“I wanted to combine two simple things into one,” McManus said. “I thought a swimsuit and a towel would be a funny and useful combination.”
The Minnesota native has kept an “Invention Book” since the fourth grade, filling its pages with “twists on functional objects as art products.” Other ideas have included a daily calendar with vitamins embedded on each page, a light therapy box meant for treating seasonal affectedness disorder personalized with the owner’s name, and a headset that “aligns chakras” during phone calls.
McManus clearly enjoys blurring the lines between art and commerce, but she told The Daily Beast that no intense promotion or email blast led to the Towelkini's newfound viral fame.
“I don’t create things to be marketed,” McManus said. “But I think the concepts of my items helps to brand them. I want to give each item I make the fullest potential. That involves naming it, writing a description, and taking photos. I want to do my ideas justice.”
On May 17, a post on the website Best Products called the garment “the only thing we’ll be wearing this summer, obviously.” Days later, British newspapers like The Sun and Metro had picked up the story.
On ITV daytime chat show Loose Women much hilarity ensued as one of the presenters modeled it in all its baffling absurdity.
Nearly a year after debuting her Towelkini, McManus was hard at work on other products when the new buzz came out. “The Towelkini wasn’t at the forefront of my life,” she explained. “It was surprising to see it everywhere, but it does make sense that something beach-related would be in the news right now.”
By May 24, Today anchors used their third hour to ask the important question, “Would you wear a Towelkini?” Meteorologist Dylan Dreyer endorsed the accoutrement; veteran Al Roker refused to even put it on.
As the segment ended, Dreyer made the valid point, “Hey, it worked for the Snuggie, they made a fortune.”
Though the Towelkini might be an example of sartorial clickbait, sharable in the vein of hairy shoes or a denim thong, McManus said she thinks it’s “wonderful” to see everyone’s “unique interpretation” of the accessory.
The artist proudly shared a blog post that called the Towelkini “the mullet of swimwear.” Others might take offense at that description, but McManus happily accepted it.
“That was a great article,” she said. “People should interact with art and let it open their mind to new possibilities. If the Towelkini can do that for someone, I think it’s done its job.”