Evolution Of The Bathing Suit

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.