By definition, topless is the dimunitive of top; it is the opposite of topped, and refers to the state of wearing no top at all, so that the breasts and nipples are fully exposed. It is a culotte without a soutien-gorge (G8852C, SE91110). Synonyms include culotte seule (French for the bottoms alone), bikini sans soutien-gorge, culotte solomente, barebreasted, and barechested (although this last term is usually reserved for men). Topless implies the subject also has bare shoulders, torso, midriff, and nipples, but as a noun or adjective the term makes no commentary about what the subject is wearing below the waistline, except it is implied the subject is wearing something (G8851).
Topless is found combined with virtually every kind of bottom, ranging from long skirts (JF192202) to miniskirts (LL5909A), pants (BB7110), shorts (WG7307-08), the nombril and string (G8853, SM8808), and even more naturally to the g-string (G8881), loincloth (GP2610), waistband (JF192201), and original bikini, the fig leaf (AE0010, AE0020).
Needless to say, a topless bottomless is nude (AE0005).
The Topless Species Debate
It has been argued that a bikini without its top is no longer a bi-kini, and is more correctly classified as a monokini. Supporters of this argument rely on both the structural arguments of the costume as well as the fact that the true monokini is not even sold with a top.
In a related frame one may also argue that the absence of a soutien-gorge shouldn't be considered a species of the soutien-gorge, and that a discussion of the topless does not belong along side a discussion about garments which actually cover the breasts.
The author of Bikini Science recognizes that these arguments have merit, but feels that even if these arguments are compelling they represent only a classification issue; in the real-world the topless case forms part of the set of costumes that women and men wear and which address coverage of a key erogenous zone: the nipple. This very special "absence case" is as important as any physical garment worn here. And in computer science terms, the null case is very much one of the set of cases. This same approach is applied to the absence of the culotte in that collection of garments.
Topless costumes have been and continue to be widely worn by a diverse societies around the planet, not only for swimwear, but also as formal attire (EG0000, C1600BC, G600BC01), and especially in tropical environments, for everyday dress (LL5908). But the total exposures of the breasts have always presented a challenge to Western societies and media, a concept discussed by Langer and which he called relative modesty. Needless to say topless in the West has migrated from the burlesque hall, the stripper, and the pinup girl to the mainstream woman.
In terms of bathing and swimwear, topless bathing is practiced in antiquity by the Greeks, Romans and others. Baths decline in the middle ages under pressure of the spread of the black plague and church condemnation of washing the body. The tide begins to turn during the Victorian era as French Orientalist painters like Gerome present an idealized depiction of Muslim harem baths (JG188510). Only in the 1800s do baths became an industry again in England, but they are a far cry from Gerome's topless beauties (JG188610).
The French musical theater, Hollywood, as well as the French cinema deploy topless dancers and actresses during the 1910s (1910-1915), and into the early 1920s, but any advances by the naturalistists to advance a topless or nude crest during that decade. By the late 1920s the puritanical Hays Code expurges bare breasts from Hollywood's silver screen (1925-1930) . Toplessness and nudity disappear from print media as well. One must go to France to see bare breasts at the Folies Bergère (FB192410, FB193110).
The first victory in the topless wars is fought by men, who manage to advance toplessness onto beaches at the same time the Hayes Code is restricting female advances (1925-1930). This battle rages into the early 1930s, fueled by movie stars like Clark Gable, who takes his shirt off and bares a shaven chest in the Hollywood classic It Happened One Night. Male chests might become liberated on the beach, but they remain shaven in the movies until the 1960s.
The first challenges to the Hays Code and the first nude beach in America began to appear in the early 1950s, but breasts remain forbidden in mainstream media, and at the beach. Instead cleavage and the "sweater girl" become popular.
Toplessness and Racism
Euro-American confrontation with topless prior to the 1960s are often deeply conflicted and involved a racial separation. This is because the dark-skinned, tropical people world-wide often are topless, whereas their white-skinned northern hemisphere counterpoints wear more clothes.
This issue is also reflected in media and censorship issues. National Geographic magazine pioneers the publishing of topless dark-skinned people in their native attire beginning in 1896 (NG189601) and has continued this practice into the present era. The puritanical view held that since the toplessness of the natives is natural it is acceptable, whereas topless of white women is out of the question. An undercurrent of the puritanical view also holds that the dark-skinned people are not entirely human, and as animals, slaves, or entertainers (EG188810) they remain a creature somewhere between the monkey and the civilized, and thus are not entirely subject to human rules. Thus from this perspective, the display of the female breasts, both in real life and in media, contains deep political and social implications.
Thus the publishing of white female topless subjects has been a much more carefully controlled endeavor. Topless mythological creatures have been tolerated since Renaissance times, especially when the figure is not entirely human (P189310), or when the theme has a religious excuse. Twentieth century American exposures tend to be confined to men's magazines, and with rare exceptions, to female fashion magazines (V8612, V8705). Europeans, Japanese, and Brazilians are less uptight, and may present toplessness on newsstands (LE198310) and billboards, on prime-time TV, and in general circulation magazines (T198810).
Like the bikini, topless is a primitive theme that has emerged in the modern world, and sometimes modern fashion pays tribute to its primitive roots (BM191210, RS7108, WBQC7201, E197701). By the late 1990s, other modern primitives are discovering scarification and body piercing, including tattooing the breasts and decorating the nipples with rings (RP9X, LK93, ST93).
The Topless Beach
The introduction of the topless t-front maillot by American fashion designer Rudi Gernreich in 1964, and the late 1960s antics of Brigitte Bardot and others to advance the topless bikini at St. Tropez on the French Riveria told in detail in the Time Machine. The French sidestep the Gernreich suggestion of a topless maillot with straps; they keep their bikini bottoms but simply abandon their tops (MR6810).
Topless bikini's discovery silhouette ranges from a 1960s nombril (JF6610) to the even more minimal sidetie string styles of the 1970s (BR197320). The French fashion press proclaims the topless g-string by the mid-1970s (E197501). But topless works with larger as well as smaller bottoms, and even rides montante upswing without a blink of cover up. By the late 1980s French beaches are almost 100% topless (G8819, G8870).
The Topless Maillot
An important part of the topless story is the creation of the topless maillot, which is told in detail at that page as well as in the Time Machine in the early 1960s. Other topless maillot silhouettes also reconfront topless during the 1980s. Norma Kamali introduces the suspender maillot (V198305), there is the issue confronted by the T-front maillot, and invention of the strapped maillot (JD89J0, AB199364). But none of these gain the currency of the maillot rolldown (a.k.a. maillot de roulè), whose thinner fabrics enable a maillot to be rolled down to topless (SM8503, G8812-13, G8837, G8852D), if not topless tanga (G8835, G8850, G8877, G8814-16).
The Venue of Topless Beach
The venue of topless is an extensive subject which can only be hinted at in this volume. The politics of toplessness are sufficiently complex that they may be analyzed independently of that of bikini. Which is another way of saying that the venue of topless does not equal the venue of bikini, even in topless cultures. This returns to the concept of relative modesty. A woman's decision to go topless depends on a wide range of factors including the locale, the time of day, social status, and the audience.
In the 1970s the topless beach is a novelty item of pinup magazines and the occasional fashion or travel magazine (RS7601BS).
Internationally the venue of topless by the late 1980s includes all European beaches and resorts, and Australia The exception are the Americas, where topless forays have been confined to members of the Woodstock Nation, city rooftops (e.g., NYC8503, RH199240), the rare bikini contest (PB8301), and a few deserted swimming holes (ML7301) and public beaches (PRI8502). The sole exception has been young children, both in the media (NW194550), as well as the real world. And even this comes under attack in the 1990s moralist American.
In fact it is not until the very late 1980s and early 1990s that topless acquires momentum with "its ultimate beach companion," the tanga (G8823, G94822), g-string (G8880), or sideless (LB198630, RD8708D). This topless tanga silhouette is featured in the Time Machine (1995-2000), where it is compared to the maillot tanga de roulè. Legalization battles in America also begin to liberate the topless on the beaches of New York, California, and other places.
The Rules of Engagement
Europeans think Americans are over-excited by bare breasts, and although the Europeans are more suave about it, even in topless-rich environments (Moraco, St. Maartin, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Sesembra, Cancun), a complex set of symbols and rules govern etiquette and behavior about covering and uncovering of the breasts (SE9131). Nowhere is this behavior more striking than when it comes to the movement of the subject. Most subjects arrive at topless beach with their tops on, sit down, and then doff them (G8801-02, G8803, G8821). A few arrive (and leave) topless (C8902-03). Most topless subjects put on their tops before walking from their towel on the sand to the ocean (G8849, SM8816A), a few don't (G8807, SM8854). Most put their tops on to walk from the hotel pool to the ocean beach; a few don't (G8852E, G8852F). Most put their tops on to engage in sports activities, but a few don't (SE9182), including this windsurfer (G8804). Most put their tops on to use the pool showers; a few don't (SM8508). Most put on their top to go to the bar or the food stand; a few don't (SM8501). Most put their top on to walk to the room in the hotel (C8994), or out to the parking lot and the car, but a few don't (G8841, G8890). Many even cover up their bikini. But a few rare long rangers stay topless (M9232).
In the end topless is not about to render soutien-gorge obsolete. Tops play a flirtatious role still, and even in Cannes they are on and off, and off and on, and....
The most cursory exploration by the aspirant Bikini Scientist will reveal a plethora of near-topless species and conditions. These include pasties, which cover only the nipples but leave the breast bare, but which are rarely spotted in the wild. Topless may be enhanced with nipple jewelry. Single-barebreasted designs include the halfbra, as well as the maillot halftop, in which only one breast and nipple is exposed. Soutiens-gorge which expose the breast and nipple (but which are not topless include the demi-bra, quarter-bra, and the cutout and nippleless. Breast drapes may provide topless views, and wilds (which defy classification) frequently encourage them.
Topless is also the cousin of see-through (CT197810) and open mesh designs which provide unfettered views of the chest. And there are also the otherwise topless women who keep their hands covering their breasts (MM4935), which is herein treated as a separate soutien-gorge species, the handbra.
The road to-and-from topless is rich and complex. It deals with fasteners, order of operation, and all the species of soutien-gorge: especially the bra, halter, and bandeau (KP8800). The road to topless also passes through the stars of musical theater (e.g., GC0L1186). Pinups also introduce topless to bathing costumes as early at the 19-oughts (VG1030) and on into the 1920s.
Beyond the scope of the various species of soutien-gorge lies the rich terrain of nipple teases and occasional exposures, be they accidental or scheming. These are accomplished by leanovers, large armholes, or excessive cleavage. Because the scope of these teases is so extensive they demand treatment in a separate work.