Peggy Moffitt in Rudi Gernreich monikini
photographed by William Claxton, 1964
| In 1964, swimsuit designer Rudi Gernreich[wiki] showcased the first monokini[wiki], a topless swimsuit.
As reported by BikiniScience.com, Gernreich begins experimenting as early as 1962 -- he considers the solo bikini bottom but feels it is simply evolutionary, "not a design," and creates a strapped topless maillot instead. An early prototype appears in Look magazine in 1963 as part of an article on futuristic fashions. Gernreich arranges for William Claxton to photograph his wife, Peggy MoffittMoffitt[wiki], and presents the pictures to the fashion press. The first photograph of Gernreich's design, a back view, is published in Look on June 2, 1964, and the first front view is shown by Women's Wear Daily the following day. Newsweek prints a back view on June 8th.
Gernreich's topless maillot[www] might have remained a fashion footnote but instead it is catapulted into national attention when a 19 year-old model, Toni Lee Shelley, wears Gernreich's creation on a Chicago beach in late June and is arrested and charged with indecent exposure. That news makes the national wire services and Life Magazine.
Two weeks later, Life compliments this coverage with a fashion feature on the broader subject. Life tells photographer Bill Claxton that "this is a family magazine, and naked breasts are only allowed if the woman is an aborigine." But they agree to run a photograph of Moffett wearing the suit but with her crisscrossed arms diplomatically blocking her nipples. Besides resolving a hands-covering-bare-breasts shot, Life handles the topless in other ways too. Life does display the full-figured costume underwater, in what is perhaps one of the most interesting censorships of all time. They also provide a back view a la a fitting room. These treatments of Gernreich's maillot reflect Life's uncertainty about dealing with the topless issue directly.
"And here is the topless suit that started the whole thing. 'I really rattled the world,' says Rudi. 'The topless suit isn't lewd, though the attitude with which it is worn may be. Sex isn't what a woman puts on--or what she takes off either.'"
Peggy photographed by William Claxton[wiki] wearing an allegedly first topless design by Rudi.
Peggy Moffitt in
10/July/1964 issue of LIFE magazine