A bandeau soutien-gorge is a strapless top that circumnavigates the torso and covers both breasts. It may have a fastener at the front or the back, or be sufficiently elastic so as to have no fastener at all. The word is of French origin from the early 1700s and is a diminutive of a band; the plural is bandeaux. The term is also sometimes used to refer to a strapless maillot, as in maillot bandeau.
The wearer of a bandeau often reveals one or more types of cleavage.
As a species of swimwear, the bandeau was worn in Roman times (C300BC10, PAS300), lost in the dark ages, and in the 1920s worn by dancers on stage (JC2450, FD3010) and in the movies (AW2450), and by burlesque performers and strippers (CF2310), but not rediscovered as swimwear until after the emergence of the deux-pièces in the early 1940s. The seminal event in its rediscovery is a 1943 Life magazine photograph of starlet Chili Williams, who instantly earns the distinction as the Polka Dot Girl, a title no doubt inspired by her deux-pièces polka dot swimsuit. Williams demonstrates how elasticity of material and firmness of bosom enables her to keep up a low-hung front-gather bandeau. Her daring strapless top, combined with a center-seamed panty briefs, and a bare midriff, are one of those single photographs that revolutionize swimsuit history. Her imitators are endless (YK4X10).
Bandeau plays a significant role in the development of the two piece throughout the 1940s, although it shares the spotlight the bra and halter. The 1940s bandeau is highly constructed and relies on darts and multiple layers of material for its support, coverage and stay-on-ability (LR4602, BM4610, SS4710, SS5010). Sometimes halter strings confuse the species (DW4910), as does a single strap (AG4810).
By the 1950s construction plays a central role, with complex lifting foundation enabling the presentation of large breasts and excessive cleavage (MA5830). But constructed bandeaux also plays a role for smaller breasted women, evidenced by its popularity with stars like Brigitte Bardot (BB5201, BB5310, BB5635, BB5950) and Ursula Andress (UA5410), as well as with fashion designers (EL5701). Toward the turn of the decade bandeau plays with straps (KG6030), and eventually constructed foundation gives way to steel underwire and loop wire.
But after the rise of bikini, bandeau falters--its strong horizontal elastic stretch is inconsistent with the reduction to cloth halter of the 1960s and the constructionless string halter of the 1970s. During string reductionism of the 1960s and 1970s the bandeau disappears completely as the endlessly shrinking triangle halter top remains the sole container of breasts. The entire fate of the top is uncertain.
An endangered species during the string bikini era, the bandeau reemerges with the evolution of the v-kini in the early 1980s (RV7962, UB8210). It is also soon paired up with the adjustable, into the early 1990s with montante (CI9106C, CI9106E), and with about everything else since.
The bandeau establishes itself in one season, and by the late 1980s it rivals the string halter at venue like The Candy Store, where variations include front-gather (FL8606, FL8608, FL8609) and twist-top (FL8607). The front-gather allows the fabric to flow from a tight center out and over the breasts. The gather can be fixed (JE9110) or controlable.
Unlike previous models, the '80s bandeau relies on elastic stretch fabric for its forming and shaping. When they are devoid of foundation, these Lycra-Spandex constructions are often called tube bandeaus, or tubes for short. The tube bandeau may be wide (VB8412, RP8506, FI8805A) and cover most of the breasts and midriff (YM8010), normal (WB8414) or rolled narrow or narrower. For this new generation, raised on the string halter, bandeau is a completely new influence.
The '80s bandeaux achieve popularity with both heavier (FL8605) as well as flat-chested women. On flat-chested women, the bandeau may be worn very narrow, essentially revealing a ridge of cleavage squeezed above and below the top (FI8322). Furthermore, the bandeau's strong horizontal silhouette coupled with horizontal stripes can visually increase apparent bust size. On the other hand, big-busted women who adapt to the bandeau often displaying extremely generous cleavage (SM8502, CB9111).
The '80s bandeau is also much more erotic than its predecessors. Worn low, the bandeau can provide generous cleavage atop the breasts (JE9110) or between them, but the new stretch fabrics also allow it to be worn high, exposing the underside of the breast (VB8409). This is a new exposure and not seen in the '40s, '50s or '60s, where the foundation was underneath the breasts, lifting them.
Another difference is that the new bandeau is only a single layer of relatively thin Spandex, unlined, and it not only molds to the breasts, but, especially when wet, allows the details of the nipple to be clearly contoured or outlined. This is called showing "headlights." By the middle 1980s, even thinner fabric in light colors allow not only the details of the nipples to be seen, but also provides hints of the color and shape of the areola.
The bandeau top offers the wearer an element of unstability that suggests a risk of exposure, and this is another erotic suggestion. This is especially true with the unreinforced tube bandeau introduced the early 1980s, especially with subjects who engage in physical activities, like playing paddleball (FI8302), or are overweight or have extreme cleavage (e.g., RP8805).
But some things never change: Even in the '40s, cleavage allows daylight to be seen between the breasts when the wearer leans over.
Optional Halter Strap
The instability issue is sometimes addressed by complementing the bandeau with a string strap that connects to the front center of the bandeau to the back (KB3210), or a pair of straps that tie behind the neck (YK4X20). These help prevent slippage, and reduce the risk of accidental exposure, especially for the buxom. In a classification sense such a soutien-gorge are called haltered bandeau. These reduce the risk of nipple exposure for more active situations, like leaning over or playing in the surf. The real danger to the bandeau wearer is spilling out of the top, from playing volleyball, running, or awash in the surf. Nippage is a key part of the swimsuit tradition, and keen eyes that have previously sought to look down the front of underwire bras now find themselves confronted with alternate, but perhaps equally appealing possibilities.
Untied, these neck straps can be allowed to dangle freely (DB8202), nestle down into the top of the bandeau (WB8412), or be removed entirely. Obviously, not wearing a neck strap increases the risk of accidental exposures and enables the wearer to tempt Nature. However, wearing a neck strap that is too tight increases the risk in the opposite direction, and threatens to pull the bandeau up instead of having it fall down. Compromise is the name of the game.
Strapless and lying on her stomach, a wearer can also unfasten her backstrap, avoid that nasty tan line, and tantalize her admirers with her finesse at fastening and unfastening the garment, while not exposing herself.
All of these untie themes, including the halter to bandeau retie, and drawn into a larger context at tieology.
Although the thin and narrow '80s bandeau largely dispenses with foundations, skillful hemming and plastic stays find their way into widespread use. The narrow side stays, usually under the arms at the sides of the breasts (FL8608), help provide lift, control stretch, and defy gravity (G8849).
Center stays are much less common than side stays, more daring and harder for the wearer to control. Actually introduced in the '40s, their reintroduction in 1983 at the hand of Norma Kamali expose and glamorize foundation (V198310), quite the opposite of their use thirty years before, when they are buried deep inside the top. The center stay enables the construction of a diamond-shaped cup (VS198410, GL9008, Vero9106-07).
Underwire can also play a roll in the bandeau, and after by the late 80s steel v-wire between the cups also becomes deployed to provide uplift (NK8801).
Other Bandeau Variations
Another foundation variation stems from the placement of the fabric itself. The twist-top bandeau involves a rotation around the length of the garment that is centered at xiphoid. The bandeau is made out of two rectangular layers of contrasting material, with side stays, and connecting to a pair of side pieces which fasten behind the back. It can also be engineered in a single color to unify with a brief (FL8607).
The twist-top is worn by rotating it 180 degrees in the front middle before putting it on, creating a narrow crossover between the breasts, which gives better lift and balance, and molds two individual breasts (RH4401). This style, which also emerges in the 1940s, becomes lost during the bikini era but is rediscovered during the '80s.
The center-ring bandeau marks another instance of the ring in the bikini play. We observe also the center-ring halter and bra, and observe that all of these species resonate with a side-ring culotte, usually with the rings at the side and the culotte nombrilled. Here we observe a center-ring bandeau paired with a v-kini ringed in the front (KP880L). One should be able to find instances of the ring appearing center back in tanga, and g., assuming ring is allowed to commingle with string.
Center-ring bandeau emerges with the bandeau rediscovery circa early 1980s (E79P15), and appears fashionable in the early 2000s (BEA550), where its limits are more publicly tested (UDA440), and its attendant risks exposed (UDA450). But honestly speaking, you, the bikini scientist is encouraged to search out the term "center-ring" (as well as its sibling, "center ring", which isn't necessarily the same thing.)
Other kinds of bandeau deployments include the bikiniite who uses a bandanna as a top (CP8705), and designs with ruffles (VB8415).
Bandeau Fastening Details
Like the slide triangle halter, the bandeau is subject to several fastening variations.
First, there is the type of fastener. In the '40s buttons and snaps are the popular fastening devices, but they are simply not secure enough to compete with the stronger horizontal forces of the elastics employed in the '80s, which require hooks and eyes.
A second design parameter is the number of fasteners. A bandeau may have no fastener at all and be a single tube of elastic with essentially two variables: circumference and width.
More commonly the bandeau has one fastener, and that fastener is usually either in the center of the back or between the breasts in front (e.g., CI9106C). The nature of this fastener can have a lot of variation, including the legendary "four-hooker."
Ties are also an option. In the 1940s the bulky front bow tie bandeau complements the sarong brief, which is also knotted. Stylistically clean and compact, the front-fastener bandeau focuses the point of closure between cleavage. It remains a popular combination to sidetie briefs in the '70s, and is again comboed with the sarong (this time bikinied) and other styles in the 1980s (WB8404). Also comes faux bow tie.
Bandeau and panty.