How much to pay for a swimsuit: $100 bikinis can cost $5 to make

From left: J. Crew solid twist-front bandeau top, $44, bikini with detachable ties, $40; Forever 21 monochromatic drawstring top, $9.80, bottom, $8.80; Malia Mills top $135, lowrider bottom $125; Victoria's Secret twist bandeau top, $22, double-string bottom, $14.50.From left: J. Crew solid twist-front bandeau top, $44, bikini with detachable ties, $40; Forever 21 monochromatic …At a glance, these bikinis all look fairly similar, but their price tags tell a different story. When shopping for bathing suits, we've become less stunned over the years at the escalating prices for skimpy pieces of colorful, stretchy lycra, but that doesn't mean we're willing to pay for them. What, for example makes the green bikini on the left cost over six times more than the pink one? we've never been able to figure it out. The New York Times did some investigating today, and they found some answers, but not all.

Apparently swimsuit "technology" is partially responsible for price discrepancy. The new line of Spanx swimsuits are claiming to contour and slim your body, and this bonus comes at a cost. The Times says other expensive bikinis claim to be weatherproof. Does this mean that the fabric is OK to get wet? Because we've seen some extremely pricey bikinis that just barely held up to that challenge.

Swimwear designer Malia Mills, told the Times that bikini bottoms cost more than panties because they must be stronger and be presentable in public. A bikini "has to keep its shape and look good when it's been exposed to sunlight and sand, and saltwater and chlorine and sunscreen and body oil," Mills said. "It's a little tiny piece of fabric, but it has to really perform." As for that fabric, Mills who imports small amounts from Europe pays much more for it that a mass brand like H&M, Wal-Mart, or Victoria's Secret. Joshua Thomas, a spokesman for Target said that big companies can "negotiate better prices for the fabrics that we use."

Another reason bikinis are expensive? The mix-and-match function, which allows consumers to pick different sizes for their tops and bottoms. We love stores that sell bikini separates, but it actually costs retailers more money to do so since they have to make twice as many tags, and package and display them separately. Marshal Cohen, a chief retail analyst at the NPD Group, told the Times that what may have sold as a $50 bikini now sells for a combined $70 as separates. When shopping for a swimsuit this season, it may be fiscally wiser to find a bikini that fits comfortably but is sold as a unit.

In the end, Cohen said it all comes down to what people are willing to pay for swimwear. He said a bikini that costs only $5 to make can easily sell for $100. Cohen also pointed out that "this year's swimwear is rarely used again next year." With that in mind, we think a decently made, inexpensive bikini that is disposable after one beach season may be the way to go. [NY Times]