A maillot is a one-piece swimsuit, typically cut high in the leg. Maillots run the gamut from modest suits designed for older women to maillot cutouts, swimsuits with daring cutouts or piece work designed to highlight a shapely body. The term is also used to refer to the stretchy knit fabric used to make a swimsuit, and sometimes is used to discuss leggings, leotards, and other sports apparel made from that fabric.
In French, the world maillot means shirt, while a maillot de bain is a bathing or swim suit. In the 1920s, when form hugging swim suits for women became more acceptable, fashion designers started calling them maillots, and the term stuck. Today, the term continues to be used in the fashion industry, and some companies will also distinguish their bathing suits as one-piece maillots or two-piece bikinis.
The original maillot from the 1920s usually included partial leg coverage to obscure the upper thighs, along with a high neck, but was still a dramatic departure from traditional women's bathing suits, which more closely resembled dresses. A maillot would have been easier to swim in and appealing for members of the opposite sex to look at, and the suits quickly took over as the bathing apparel of choice for women. With time, the maillot evolved, with a lower or keyhole neckline and higher cut leg holes.
In the 1930s, designers began creating maillot cutouts, which were missing panels on either side of the stomach or the upper back. These swimming suits were precursors of the bikini, which finally separated the bathing suit into two separate halves, but maillot cutouts are still popular in most summer design lines. A maillot cutout provides more figure control than a bikini does while still emphasizing desirable features of the female body, and can be interesting visually, as cutouts can be arranged into asymmetrical designs, or take the form of interesting shapes.
Like any other bathing suit, a maillot is designed from a stretchy fabric which is designed to be worn in the water. To maintain the stretch in the fabric, a maillot should be washed in cold water and hung to dry, and never subjected to a dryer or iron. Harsh cleaning materials such as bleach should also be avoided, as they may compromise the integrity of the fabric, and a maillot should be washed, allowed to completely dry, and folded at the end of the swimming season.