Swimsuit Trends Through the Ages: A Brief History
When we hit the pool or spend the day on the beach, we can take our swimwear for granted. Especially with the rise of social media platforms like Pinterest and TikTok, past fashion trends are constantly reemerging, allowing us to have endless swimwear options to show off at summer outings.
What we don’t always realize is that swimsuits have had a fascinating history in fashion.
Swimsuits did not even officially come onto the scene until the 1800s, since recreational swimming was not nearly as commonplace as it is in modern society. Of course, fashion and trends of the Victorian era look much different than what’s currently trending. Naturally, the popular swimwear of the time was quite a sight.
It can be fun to take a look back at the trends of the past and watch how the garments we wear each day developed into their modern form.
The best way to appreciate those previous trends is to work through them chronologically. Read on for a timeline of the swimwear trends through the ages, and enjoy this brief fashion history lesson!
We mentioned that swimwear didn’t emerge in fashion until the 1800s. This is because most people did not engage in recreational swimming activities. Back in ancient times, if people went to a pool, they would likely just go in completely nude.
Then, modesty became more commonplace, and public nudity became a crime. Once recreational swimming got popular, swimsuits became a necessity.
Women’s swimwear looked extremely different in the 1800s than it does today. Bathing gowns were the expected swimwear of choice among women.
Bathing gowns were swimming garments with long skirts and tops that provided full coverage. In fact, to avoid the skirt floating up upon being submerged in water, weights were sometimes sewed into the skirt hems to keep everything covered and in place.
This style of swimsuit was not practical. As women gained more and more independence in the 1900s, swimwear evolved with them.
The Early 1900s
Skirts and excessive coverage were still rampant in the early 1900s. By the time the 1930s rolled around, women’s fashion was becoming bolder and less conservative each year. Swimwear followed suit.
Coverage was still expected, as there were swimwear laws on beaches throughout the US. Up until the late 30s, women were still required to be covered, especially on their legs. If they wore the short, form-fitting one-pieces that were becoming popular, they could be arrested.
Stockings were used as a compromise to the modest regulations, but women were becoming more independent and less conservative with their fashion. Eventually, swimsuit regulations disappeared, and women began wearing form-fitting one-pieces with boyshort-style bottoms.
Sailor-like swimsuits were very common during this time period as well, with navy blue or black and white stripes and pin-up style tops. It was a style that showed off more of the womanly figure while still covering up our curviest body parts.
Swimwear began evolving into the sultry staples we know and love during the 1950s, thanks to sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe, who did photo shoots in form-fitting, revealing suits.
Pin-up style one-pieces were hugely popular during the 50s, becoming slightly lower cut to reveal more cleavage. While the body was fairly covered, this style hugged the figure and highlighted the curves.
One-pieces were not the only swimsuit of choice, however. After emerging in the late 40s, bikinis quickly became a popular swimwear staple.
Swimwear was becoming an opportunity for women to express themselves and show off their body types and silhouettes when they typically were expected to cover up. Naturally, bikinis became the bathing suit of choice.
Bikinis resembled the shape of the pin-up one-piece suits, except they came in two pieces with much more skin being exposed. The bottoms tended to take a boyshort shape.
The 1960s was a time of great change: People were constantly fighting and petitioning for human rights, music was shifting to rock and roll and becoming more explicit, and fashions were getting bolder — including swimwear.
Bikinis were even more popular in the 60s than they were the decade before and only became more sultry over time. If you are familiar with the “itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini” tune from the 60s, you can imagine what the beach scene was like.
Bikinis were exposing even more skin and getting smaller. Pin-up styles and form-fitting shapewear were still popular, but new trends of tiny bikinis that display our figures emerged.
Bohemian fashion hit its peak in the 70s, and swimwear took a step back from the bikini style. Now, we saw one-piece swimsuits reemerge in popularity.
The 70s were a period of time that highlighted free-spiritedness, fluidity, and individuality, and the swimwear of the time certainly reflected those sentiments. Plunging one-piece bathing suits, and swimsuits with sexy peek-a-boo cutouts were all the rage.
Women wanted to show off their figures in playful, fashionable ways. One-pieces left a lot of room to demonstrate your stylistic prowess, especially with sexy necklines and fun cut-outs to make you stand out.
Of course, bikinis were still a favorite of many, but one-piece swimwear heavily resurfaced in the 70s. One-piece styles continue to creep back into swimwear trends even now, but with twists like a plunging neckline to add some sass.
Fashion completely exploded in the 80s. Wardrobes became increasingly more flamboyant, bright, and wild as the decade progressed, and swimwear reflected that 80s charm.
Tight bikinis coming in bright, neon shades and patterns could be found on any beach, especially throughout the later end of the decade. Floral patterns were also favored and were a way to stand out at the local pool.
One-pieces were also huge in the 80s: particularly tight, flirty one-pieces with zip-up plunging necklines. It was a style that looked sporty and sexy, almost resembling a lifeguard’s attire with an added tease of cleavage.
High-cut bottoms were also hugely trendy in the 1980s. The deep leg cut-outs gave your swimsuit a hint of drama and made your legs look much longer. They typically were raised bottoms, so they cut off higher up on your waist and hugged your figure in a flattering way.
The 90s saw a great shift in fashion with the emergence of the grunge style of clothing. Led by rock musicians like the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, the grunge subculture was all about nonconformity and turning against popular culture and societal norms. The fashion of the time heavily reflected those ideals, and even swimwear was impacted by them.
Instead of sexy one-pieces and skin-hugging swimsuits, the 90s were all about comfortable boy shorts, board shorts, and oversized bottoms. Something that lived on from the 80s was fun, bold patterns, prints, and colors.
Neon continued to dominate swimwear, and unique prints followed suit.
Fashion in the early 2000s and throughout the 2010s was eclectic and playful. When it came to swimwear, bright colors were in, and less was more.
Sexy one-piece swimsuits had their place, but this era was all about small, stringy bikinis. Thong bikinis became more popular, and revealing cuts were very commonplace on your local beaches.
The 2000s were a period that felt nostalgic for 80s fashion and culture. Many of the trends that emerged in that decade resurfaced in the late 2000s and early 2010s, paying homage to a decade with fashion that was equally as bright and chaotic.
Modern Swim Trends: History Repeats Itself
Trends are constantly recycling throughout fashion, and that could not be truer of the modern swimwear trends. In an era of post-pandemic body positivity and individuality, we are more flexible with swimsuit fashion now than ever.
Some of the styles that are the most popular right now include:
- Strapless Bikini Sets
- High-Waisted Bikini Bottoms
- One-Shoulder Bandeau Bikini Tops
- Ruched Halter Tops
- Cutout One-Piece Swimsuits
- Strappy Triangle Bikini Tops
- Underwire Bikini Sets
- Square Neck Tankinis and Bodysuits
- Crochet Bikinis
- Halterneck Tops
- Retro Colorblock Bikinis
- String Bikini Sets
Though 70s and 90s trends are currently on-trend, many people are experimenting with the sexy cut-outs and high-waisted cuts that defined earlier generations.
Plunging necklines, boyshorts, and bikinis are all in-style — and they are trends that have lived on for decades. The general attitude towards swimwear now is very appreciative of trends’ past. Even new swimwear styles that you can find at La Blanca take inspiration from the periods that came before, though you can leave the swimming gowns back in the 1900s.
Whatever swimsuit style you prefer, you are guaranteed to rock this summer while hanging out poolside at your next pool party.