The Betrayal of Bikini Bottoms, or, Meet the Butt’s Butt

by Lamar Clarkson

I’ve always been a bit of a Victorian, sartorially speaking. I find thongs troubling and daytime cleavage intrusive. Back in 2007, I gave up on Second Life shortly after joining because none of the available shirts would cover my avatar’s midriff. When it comes to swimsuits, though, my grievances are rooted in logistics as much as modesty. I long for a privilege that our mothers and grandmothers once took for granted and that men still do: the freedom to jump in the water without first scheduling a hair removal operation. I dream of taking an impromptu dip in my sister’s hot tub without contemplating a treacherous dry shave or borrowing a pair of shorts.

Technically, there is already a solution: boy shorts. But, as with most girl versions of guy things, the boy-short bikini bottom has a crucial flaw. It is designed to end before your butt itself is over, giving rise to an unfortunate (and wholly modern) body part: the butt’s butt.

Like the lap, which only appears during sitting, the butt’s butt is somewhat elusive. Nudity banishes it; bikini bottoms conjure it. (Nearly all do. The boy short is merely the quickest draw.) Roughly speaking, the butt’s butt exists in that zone of bum/thigh ambiguity, where, thanks to gravitational forces, maximum flesh compression occurs.

F = (bum)(thigh)


where F is the force due to gravity and n is the amount of time we all waste tugging our bathing suits out of our asses.

The butt’s butt is not a size problem, and it’s not some “problem area” to be targeted for elimination. Quite the contrary. The bikini is a problem garment in need of a makeover. By being butt shaped, bikini bottoms falsely suggest that they are meant to cover the entire butt. In practice, they are more like triangles of fabric that hover vaguely around our nether zones, providing some approximation of coverage.

We deserve options beyond the Land’s End catalog and the cute but somewhat puritanical skirt suit, which I, for one, am not demographically ready for. Herewith, a guide to the friends and enemies of the butt’s butt. You’ll be peeling away that sanitary strip in no time!

Back away from: J.Crew

J.Crew has perfected the art of suits that are both skimpy and baggy (the Boyfriend Bikini?). Worst offender: their seersucker banded bikini bottom, which moves like plastic. If you ever wondered what it felt like to wear your Strawberry Shortcake doll’s bloomers, this is it.

They do make something called the foldover short, which can be tugged into place in the rear. As soon as you take a step, however, it’s all undone and the BB pops out.

Try instead: Michael Kors, Anthropologie

If you’re after a traditional bikini brief, Michael Kors makes a truly inspired version with elastic that bests even the most trusty of granny panties. His shirred hipster bikini bottom stayed in place for three sets of jumping jacks AND a two-hour surfing lesson.

Anthropologie sells suits from a range of designers, so it’s possible to get lucky there. The Airborne Bikini, by Salinas, is a cute bird-print number that nicely avoids the athletic look of the traditional boy short. Like Farrah Fawcett hair, it’s girly in the front and simple in the rear. The suit is generous enough not to creep up in the back, but it’s also pretty low-slung. If you’re out to minimimize a round booty, you may prefer a higher-waisted suit. (See retro bloomers.)

Back away from: Skirt suits

Let’s face it: unless they’re cut like an A-line skirt — which amounts to a giant wad of fabric fated to bubble up rudely in the water — skirt suits have a tendency to make one look squat.

Try instead: Retro bloomers

Marc by Marc Jacobs makes a vintage-inspired bikini that is more than just a suit: It crosses over into full-on bathing costume territory. There is side smocking, ruffle trim, and even a removable belt. Despite all this, it’s very well proportioned. The high waist takes the emphasis off the butt, and the bra top flatters small and large busts alike. If you are short waisted and don’t like seeing your belly button swallowed, you may want to pass on this one (and proceed to drawstring boy shorts).

Back away from: The retractable drawstring skirt

A number of brands — from Tommy Hilfiger to Badgley Mischka to Juicy Couture — are offering a hybrid suit combining a traditional bikini bottom with a retractable shirred skirt. The skirt can be bunched up into a band around the hips or extended down into a clingy sort of miniskirt. In theory this is a great idea. A suit and cover-up in one! In practice, it amounts to bad (read: crotch-bound) swimwear and bad fashion. When the Badgley Mischka suit is extended, the trunks underneath form a visible pantyline, which, combined with the largely theoretical skirt, looks like the sort of thing that would get you kicked out of a middle-school dance.

Try instead: Drawstring boy shorts

Tibi makes an all-around flattering halter bikini with drawstring boy shorts. The drawstrings, set at the base of the hip, make the width of the sides adjustable. Letting out the strings will buy you some extra coverage in the back. The bottoms get a little butt’s-butty on me, but they worked on my more compact (5’4″) friend, even when I made her do high kicks.

Do you have a tried-and-true suit? Know the best/worst places to shop? Help expand the list! We can call it a bikini-wiki (biki-wiki? wikini?) and all march around confidently in a single-file line.

Lamar Clarkson is in the market for a kiddie pool and a laptop float but is thinking that actually just a cooler would work.