The history of the bikini can be traced back to the ancient times. Illustrations of Roman women wearing swimsuit-like clothing during competitive athletic events have been found in different locations.
French women welcomed the design, but the Catholic Church, some media, and a majority of the public initially thought the attire was scandalous. Contestants in the first Miss World beauty pageant wore them in 1951, but the bikini was then banned from the competition. During the early 1960s, the design appeared on the cover of two famed magazines making it more acceptable.
The swimsuit steadily gained wide acceptance in Western society. According to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard, the swimsuit is probably the most popular type of female beachwear around the globe because of “the power of women, and not the power of fashion.” As he explains, “The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women.” Let’s take a look at the evolution of the bathing suit.
12. The 1890s To Early 1900s
It was in the early 1800’s that people started to gather to the beaches for seaside pastime. With the opening of railroads, ocean-side beaches became even more popular for sunny vacations. Along with this new outdoor pastime came the need for a stylish attire for the stylish women.
At the revolution of the century, bathing attires matched what would today be considered a fairly conservative dress. Women frequently sewed weights to the bottom of the skirts to prevent them from flying up and exposing their legs.
11. The 1920s
Women then started wearing form-fitting suits, with shorter skirts and no sleeves. The suits were considered very attractive and freeing.
Then women’s bathing suits were reduced to a one-piece garment with a long top that covered shorts. Although matching stockings were still worn, vintage swimwear started to shrink and more and more flesh was displayed from the bottom of the trunks to the tops of the stockings. By the mid-1920s, Vogue magazine was telling its readers that “the newest thing for the sea is a jersey bathing suit as near a maillot as the unwritten law will permit.”
10. The 1930s
In the 1930s, one-piece swimsuits dominated the water. The swimsuits were often backless, making a dramatic turning point for swimwear designs.
The form of the 1930s swimsuit took inspiration from men’s swimsuits, which were still one pieces. Men were encouraged to sport muscular but lean bodies. Women too were encouraged to slim down to suit the latest cut. Swimsuits showed off more leg and more back than ever before.
9. The 1940s
Due to World War II fabric distribution, women started wearing swimsuits that showed a bit of skin at the waist. Despite the war and lack in fabric distribution, that didn’t stop women from wearing swimsuits and enjoying the beach.
For the most part, hems are shortened and skirts removed, but in some cases, they do split into two. 1940s bathing suits, like many other clothing items, was also losing its modesty. The ’40s was the era when the midriff was born, and it was shown in swimsuits as well as playsuits. Swimsuits were tight, unlike the suits of previous eras.
8. Swimsuit History
Four days before the release of his invention, the U.S. performed nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll. Rèard named his suit “the bikini” because he believed the reaction to his design would be as explosive as an atomic bomb. He was correct, but it took years for the bikini to achieve mass popularity. Showgirl Micheline Bernardini debuts the suit at a popular swimming pool in the center of Paris.
7. The 1950s
One-pieces continued to rule the scene through the 50s, but a few brave women did opt for bikinis. Wearing a bikini was risky, as they were banned by many countries, and many people insisted they were sinful.
Beaches across Europe and the Mediterranean try to ban bikinis, as do most Catholic countries and the Miss World pageant. But Réard received more than 50,000 fan letters and launched an aggressive ad campaign saying it’s not a real bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”
6. The 1960s
By the 1960s, bikinis were the swimsuit of choice. Neck and waistlines became lower cut, as showing skin was no longer considered shameful.
In 1960, Bryan Hyland released a hit single: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Two years later, Ursula Andress appears from the sea wearing a belted white bikini as Honey Ryder in Dr. No, Sean Connery’s first James Bond film. The move was a revolutionary moment in cinematic history. In 1964, Sports Illustrated launched its first swimsuit issue.
5. The 1970s
In the late 1970s, Raquel Welch wears a fur bikini in One Million Years BC. The rugged animal cloth she wears on the poster ends up becoming more famous than the actual film and launches her toward a crowning achievement as the Most Desired Woman of the 1970s.
4. The 1980s
The high-cut trend continued throughout the 80s, in addition to neon colors. In the late 1980s, G-strings made their première in Brazil and slowly worked their way across the globe.
In 1983, Carrie Fisher takes the bikini off the beach. In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, as Princess Leia sports a gold metal bikini that will produce years’ worth of Halloween costumes. The bikini’s popularity continues to soar, as the suit grows smaller than ever and are cut higher than ever at the thigh.
3. The 1990s
Swimsuits continued to dominate over waterfront societies in the 90s. But surprisingly additional fabric, in the form of a tankini, gained popularity as well. In addition to tankinis, bra-like tops with adjustable straps and Baywatch-style red one-pieces made consistent appearances.
The swimsuit continues to evolve and its not only about showing skin but also being comfortable while wearing the popular beach attire.
Today, almost anything goes. Less is more, or so it seems. There are revealing one-pieces, classic bikinis, G-string bottoms, and the return of old-fashioned styles. The choices are endless. You can choose something retro, stylish, something more covered up, skin-baring swimwear and whatever you’re comfortable with. Swimwear became as fashionable as ever.
1. The Future?
The swimsuit has come a long way since it was first invented. Maybe it will disappear completely over the next century and swimming in the skin will become common. Skin is in, so it really doesn’t seem that far-fetched. We’ll never know if this form of swimming preference will ever be accepted but as of now there are brave souls out there who have done and are doing it confidently.
So what do you think of the evolution of the swimwear? Which ones were your favorite and which ones will you personally pick? It was fun seeing how the once banned attire evolve and be accepted by the society.
For the women, it’s not all about showing skin and looking atractive but it’s also become a form of self-expression.