FOR the first time since the 1950s, one-piece swimsuits and two pieces with high-waisted pants and wide-strapped brassiere tops are proving as popular for summer as the classic ''itsy-bitsy'' bikini.
''It's the biggest trend this season,'' said Caz Ingersole of retail chain Swimwear Galore. ''The high-waisted pant used to be a high-fashion [niche market] item, but now it's very mainstream.''
Swimwear brands including Jets, Isola by Megan Gale, Seafolly, Aqua Blu, Gorman, Tigerlily, Baku and Alannah Hill's eponymous swimwear collection launched this month, are among dozens offering versions of the iconic style popularised by Hollywood bombshells Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Esther Williams and Marilyn Monroe in the 1940s and 1950s.
''Girls are loving it because it's fashion forward, but also comfortable and practical,'' said designer Lisa Gorman.
''It's feminine, and femininity is really strong in fashion, plus it accentuates the figure, is quite supportive, and it's got a kitschiness to it they like, particularly in vintage style prints.''
Gorman launched her first versions of the bombshell three summers ago and realised instantly she had a hit on her hands. ''We sold three times as many of them than the smaller, basic bottom,'' she says.
The next year's sales for Gorman were even better and this summer, the look jumped from niche market to mainstream. ''Now it's by far outselling any other shape and I can see it going on for at least the next few summers.''
Fitzroy retailer Mary Lou Scally of Scally & Trombone said sales of her Esther Williams collection, based on the aquatic Hollywood star's actual two and one-piece swimsuits, were also rocketing. ''At last, after many years of ridiculous swimwear built for the woman with legs to her armpits, these are practical and glamorous,'' she said. ''They're totally practical for swimming laps and the two-piece comes over your belly button and fits nicely around everything you need it nicely around. What more could a woman want?''
David Jones womenswear general manager David Bush also reported brisk business for the bombshell, but mostly among younger women. ''We've definitely seen a resurgence of the high-waisted,'' he said.
At Myer, however, the look is still exclusive to more daring customers. ''The styles sold well but are still being worn by the fashion-savvy consumer not afraid to make a statement at the beach,'' said womenswear buyer Vicki Kordatou.
''For those less daring, a hipster brief or tie-side bikini pant is still a very popular option.''