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Swimwear Through The Ages

Written by mimie reed


Posted on August 11 2021

Swimwear has evolved greatly over the years. A liking for conservative swimwear trends influenced by strict regulations has transitioned into a demand for shapely, risqué pieces. Fabrics and accessories have also continued to develop, from feminine, frilly additions to the addition of synthetic fabrics that aided the construction of a form-fitting silhouette. We’re taking a look at the evolution of swimwear over the past century:

Early 1900s

The introduction of the 20th century saw sailor-inspired swimwear gain traction. Black-and-white striped taffeta, sailor-style collars, black silk stockings and black leather sandals all formed part of the swimsuit trends that had circulated in the early 1900s. Bathing coats, often made in silk and incorporating long sleeves, were also commonly used as a means to cover up and opt for a modest ensemble. This would be worn at all times when women were not in the water.

1910s - 1930s

Swimsuits in the 1910s had become more revealing, having shortened and transitioned into form- fitting pieces. The 20s and 30s furthered this trend, having brought about lower necklines and a liking for V-necks. The change in style, however, invited criticism from authorities who considered the swimwear inappropriate. Some beaches had implemented regulations that restricted women from wearing anything that was too short, with some police officers even using measuring tape to check the distance between the swimsuit and the woman’s knee.

Colourful swimsuits accessorised with belts also became popular at this time, while swim caps were commonly worn with a chin strap. Comfort had become a priority, supported by the usage of lighter materials and functional design.


1940s - 1950s

Swimwear trends in the 40s were dominated by short, tight dresses with a V-neck or halter-style top. This feminine take on the traditional one-piece had begun to revolutionise the swimwear industry, and was later followed by the bikini. Bikinis would include a top - usually a halter neck, V-neck or bandeau - and shorts, paired to reveal the midriff area. The trend was led by World War II and the need to conserve resources to the best of one’s ability. In 1946, French Model Micheline Bernardini wore the bikini first, which was said to reveal “everything about a girl except her mother’s maiden name.”

Swimwear styles did not change much a decade later, but they did continue to introduce more comfort. Nylon and elastic were used, making swimsuits stretchier and allowing them to dry faster.

1960s - 1970s

Swimwear in the 60s looked more risqué - one-pieces became tighter and low-cut bikini bottoms were considered trendy. The 70s took this trend a step further, with thongs, sheer suits and swimsuits with revealing cut-outs becoming the norm. Colourful, patterned swimsuits were also a major trend in the 70s.

1980s - 1990s
Swimsuits become bolder and brighter in the 80s and 90s - fluorescent colours and chaotic prints were everywhere you’d look. Necklines and bikini bottoms continued to flaunt revealing styles, while swimwear in general took inspiration from sporty, athletic attire. Bright swimsuits with high- cut legs and tank tops, often taking inspiration from Baywatch, were an especially popular choice in the mid 90s.


The early 2000s furthered trends that were visible in the 90s, although new styles, such as tankinis, were introduced. Tanikinis consisted of a halter-style top paired with low-cut bottoms - one could say it was a modest take on the traditional bikini.