The history of women’s swimsuits is a wild ride. From the early years to now, it seems like women’s swimsuit fashion has been all over the place.
One of the things you will notice is that society and the moral opinions of the time seem to color swimsuit fashion for women. One thing that often takes a backseat is comfort. Explore the timeline from ancient times to today.
In the classical ages, Wikipedia explains that swimming was something people did in the nude. At that time, nudity wasn’t something anyone had shame about. However, that would soon change.
Moving into the Renaissance and the 18th Century, not only was nudity something no longer accepted in public but swimming was also something immoral and evil. People just didn’t swim.
Next up was the Victorian era, known for its strict social rules and stuffy clothing. While people lightened up slightly about swimming, women were not having a good time at the beach. Swimsuits at this time looked pretty much like normal everyday clothing.
It was heavy and thick. It was also incredibly dangerous because the clothing would weigh a woman down, posing a drowning risk. However, to maintain social standards, if a woman wanted to swim, she had to wear the cumbersome suits.
First Half of the 20th Century
Luckily, the strict Victorian era rules gave way to a more accepting view of swimming. At the beginning of the 20th Century, swimming became a leisure activity or something people did for exercise. It was more socially acceptable.
Because of the change in attitude from the stuffy eras of the past, women wanted to swim more often. Designers started to make clothing specifically for swimming, creating a new industry.
Swimsuits at this time did still look much like regular clothing, but designers streamlined them to be safer. They covered a lot of the body. There were no bare backs, low necklines, or high cut legs. Suits looked like dresses and usually included bloomers. They wore hats and even had swimming shoes. Modesty remained an important aspect when dressing to swim.
By 1910, suits become more form-fitting. Bathing caps were still a thing, and the dress style was still the norm. Suits shrunk a little too. They still had full coverage of the hips and thighs, but the top part exposed the arms and tank and halter styles were common.
The 1920s introduced lower necklines. Suits still had a lot of coverage, but designers started having more fun with the colors and patterns they used, creating distinct swimming fashion. Women still wore swim caps regularly to protect their hairstyles.
Modesty was still important, though. There were many regulations in place to ensure women weren’t too exposed at the beach. It wasn’t uncommon for officers to stop women to measure the length of a suit.
Things really started to loosen up in the 1930s. Finally, swimsuits started to look a little more like the suits of today with higher cut legs, low necklines, and exposed backs. The straps became thinner as well. Designers began using lighter materials more suited to wear in the water.
By the 1940s, swimsuits were finally a true fashion item. Women started wearing dress style suits again, but now they were very short skirts and looked much like a mini sundress. Halter styles were popular, too, and the bikini made its debut. It usually had shorts for the bottom with a lot of coverage.
End of 20th Century to Today
Harper’s Bazaar explains that in the 1950s, the style of swimsuits didn’t change very much. The most notable change was a switch in material to nylon and elastic.
The 1960s introduced tighter suits with far less fabric. Modesty was no longer a huge concern. Everything about the suits was smaller, and women were not afraid to expose more of their bodies. The bikini was really taking off, but now it had a panty-style bottom.
In the 1970s, there was less fabric and more skin than ever before. String bikinis and thong cuts came onto the scene, and even sheer suits had their moment. Vibrant patterns and colors were quite popular.
From the 1980s to now, there has been a range of styles in swimsuits. Creative designs are commonplace as designers, such as Ashley Longshore, often focus their efforts on creating swimsuit lines.
The major focus for swimsuits these days is that a woman feels comfortable in her suit no matter the style. There is something for everyone’s comfort level.
Swimsuits are something most women consider a necessary part of their wardrobe. Many women have multiple suits. Each woman can choose the suit that matches her style. However, it wasn’t always this way.
The past shows us that rules and restrictions often made swimming a cumbersome task for the poor women of the time. Once society was able to throw off the shackles of modesty and the need to cover a woman’s body, swimsuit fashion became fun and a great way to experiment with personal style.