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The Evolution of Swimwear

Posted on 22 August 2016

Ursula Andress - James Bond

We are right in the middle of summer! Whether you’re jetting off to idyllic beaches or a sun-kissed pool party, there is one item you won’t be able to leave home without - a swimsuit.

Bathing suits and bikinis have evolved substantially since the early 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1940's that bikinis became socially acceptable and swimwear as a whole began to echo the trends being seen in the mainstream fashion industry. 

1900s Swimwear

Whilst sun bathing and trips to the beach were popular in the 18th century, it was considered proper to keep skin untouched by the sun. Therefore, ladies protected themselves by wearing bonnets which shaded their faces. They were also known to sew weights into the hems of their dresses to prevent them from blowing up and showing their legs. In the 18th and 19th centuries, modesty ruled over fashion.

1920s Swimwear

By 1910, bathing suits no longer camouflaged the contours of the body. The yards of fabric used in Victorian bathing skirts and bloomers were reduced to show a little more of the figure and to allow for exposure to the sun. However, whilst it became acceptable for women to bare their arms and legs, many beaches imposed restrictions on how much skin could be on show. By the mid-1920's, 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.

Michelle Bernardini - Bikini, 1946

The first official bikini was introduced at a poolside event in Paris is 1946. Rumours had been rife that the inventor - Louis Reard - couldn’t find a model willing to wear it so instead, he hired a stripper by the name of Micheline Bernardini. The skimpy two-piece was later banned in Italy and Spain; considered too indecent.

Sports Illustrated 1964

Bikinis began to go mainstream in the 1950s. French actress Brigitte Bardot played a role in this, popularising the bikini by wearing one to the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, as well as in a lot of her movies. In 1964, Sports Illustrated published their first swimsuit edition, featuring model Babette March on the cover in a simple, white bikini.

Melissa Odabash 2016 Collection

In recent years, swimwear has come full circle with one-pieces growing in popularity as well as 1950's style, high-waisted bikinis. Fashion Week sees dedicated swimwear collections and the industry is estimated to be worth $22.7 million by 2022.

Have you got yours yet?

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