Bandeau (pl. bandeaux, diminutive of French: bande meaning “strip”), a garment made of a strip of cloth. Today the term refers most frequently to the garment that wraps around a woman’s breasts in sporting and bathing costumes dating back to Roman times. In the first half of the 20th century, “bandeaux” were also popular headdresses in the form of headache bands or headbands.
The term is also used to refer to a wimple-like garment in the costumes of nuns, as well as of women of the medieval period.
In modern sporting and bathing costumes, a bandeau is a strapless garment worn around a woman’s breasts. It may be fastened in the front or back or be sufficiently elastic so as to have no fastener at all. In a strict sense a bandeau has but two edges, although it is sometimes manufactured with a detachable halter strap that goes around the neck. A wide bandeau that covers much of the midriff is sometimes called a tube top.
As a silhouette the bandeau has been worn since Roman times. In the 1920s the term referred to a simply shaped brassiere, usually of a soft fabric and delicate trimmings providing little support or shaping. It was sometimes made from an elastic material to flatten or suppress the breasts in the style of the period. When the “boyish” silhouette went out of fashion, the word “brassiere” or later “bra” became the term for more shapely support garments.
The bandeau emerged as the top part of a deux-pièces swimsuit during the 1940s. In the 1950s the bandeau incorporated foundation so as to structure (or improve) the contours of the body, while still retaining a relatively simple circle or band shape, emphasizing the bare midriff. Its popularity in swimwear declined during the string bikini era, but it was reintroduced in the 1980s, especially with Spandex and other stretch fabric blends. Side stays, v-wire in the center front, O-rings, and the twisted top are popular design elements.
The strapless bandeau, or tube top, is also worn as casual wear and sports wear starting in the 1970s, and is sometimes worn as part of a sportswear ensemble and paired with a cropped jacket or bolero.
The term bandeau also refers to the thin headband traditionally worn—until recently—underneath and supporting the veil by the nuns of many Catholic religious institutes. Together with the wimple (which covers the cheeks and neck) and the white coif to which it would be attached, it was the common headdress of a respectable woman in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Variations and relatives
- A bandeau is related to other strapless foundation garments including a torsolette, corset and bustier
- A “bandeau” with shoulder straps is a brassiere
- A “bandeau” with a neck strap is a halter
- In pre-Islamic Balinese (Indonesian) culture, women would wear a bandeau, called a sabuk when visiting temples or attending important ceremonies (else in daily life they would normally go topless).