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The History of Swimwear

Let’s be honest. You’ve been ready for summer since January! With the summer months just around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at how far swimwear has come. The evolution of the bathing suit has reflected society’s attitude towards swimming, outdoor living, and modesty.

The 18th Century Bathing Gown

Forget what you know about bikinis, tankinis, and any other form of traditional bathing suits. In the 18th century, swimwear served as an entirely different function. Bathing gowns were long dresses that were designed with a heavy fabric to help protect against transparency and help the dress not rise up while wading in the water. Swimwear during this time period was emphasized in modesty, not style.

The 19th Century Princess Cut Suit

Up until the 19th century, there were not many changes from the heavy garment known as the bathing gown, because women were not encouraged to swim. By the end of the 19th century, society finally realized that women were capable of swimmer, and women’s swimwear finally had an opportunity to explore new possibilities. Could you imagine? The bathing gown finally got a makeover, and the Princess Cut suit was introduced. The Princess Cut consisted of a one piece blouse and trousers ensemble, with a separate skirt that hung below the knee. In 1918, swimwear got another makeover, leaving only a tunic to cover the shorts. This was the beginning of bathing suits starting to get lighter and more revealing. During this time, bare legs were finally acceptable to show at the beach.

The 1940s – 1950s Bathing Suits

Hollywood added the much needed glamour and style to the bathing suit. During this time, the film industry fueled the demand for lighter, brighter beachwear. This was a time of slightly higher cuts and tighter fits. By the mid 1950s, mesh or sheer fabric were introduced to the midriff area. This was symbolic of the new acceptance of more revealing suits. Not quite bikinis, but society was now okay with a woman wearing a little less when taking a trip to the beach.

The 1960s- 1970s Risk Taking Bathing Suits

In the 1960s, bikinis were now an acceptable and stylish alternative to the one piece bathing suit. Bikinis were not nearly as revealing as today, but still took a risk. Bottoms always entirely covered the women’s rear, and the front sat just beneath the belly button. Most bikinis contained nylon in the fabric, allowing for a more contemporary fit. The 1970’s revolution would forever change swimwear. By the mid 70s, bikini tops were not much more than a bra. The 1970s also re-introduced the one piece, but this time it was extremely high cut to reveal the hips.

The 1980s Narrow Swimwear

The swimwear industry completely transformed into niche area in the fashion world. Swimwear during this time was focused on serving the purpose of sun tanning and playing. The 90s saw variations of bikini silhouettes, including the “pretzel”, which was a twist of spandex and lycra that barely covered anything. Criss cross halter tops and odd designers seemed to dominate the 90s suit.

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