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Beach Blast from the Past: A Brief History of Swimsuits for Women

by Karen Louis November 06, 2019

Did you know that in 1907 a woman was arrested and charged with indecency for wearing a one-piece swimsuit? This case lead to more relaxed swimwear restrictions worldwide! Are you curious about the history of swimsuits?

In this article, you'll discover the history of swimsuits, how they went from big and frumpy to the popular 2-piece many wear today. Read on to discover 1920s swimwear compared with today, you won't want to miss the difference!

1. The 1800s

 During the 19th century, swimming became recreational. Women during this time wore long dresses to cover their skin and face-protecting bonnets. Women would sew weights in their hems to prevent their bathing dresses from floating up. 

2. The 1900s

During the 1900's there was a shift in fashion and values. During this time, the Victorian Era was ending, so the heavy layers worn in the 19th century transitioned into a shorter and lighter dress. The dresses were made from wool fabrics or heavy flannel so it didn't outline the female form too much. 

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, women wore long black stockings, bathing slippers that laced up, and caps. The bathing slippers were made from felt or twisted straw. 

3. 1915

Before the 20th century, the only activity women enjoyed in the ocean was jumping through waves and holding onto a rope. In 1915, women started swimming and reduced the amount of heavy fabric in their swimsuits. 

4. The 1920s

During this time, with the influence of Hollywood, swimwear was starting to become more fashionable. For 1920s swimwear, bathing suits became a one-piece with a long top, and it covered shorts. Matching stockings were still worn with the swimsuits during this time. 

Sadly, beaches were still censoring women with suit regulations. 

5. The 1930s

Bathing suits that were flattering and let your body breathe were finally a thing. During the 1930s, romper suits became popular, and knee-length bathing suits were a thing of the past. During this time, times were changing for women since 1/3 of married women were seeking employment. 

6. The 1940s

During the 1940s, the first bathing suit was introduced to the world by Louis Reard in 1946. They named it Bikini Atoll, named after where atomic bomb testing took place. While Europe started wearing it first, it wasn't introduced to the United States until a year later. 

Shockingly, Reard didn't invent the bikini. The first bikini was invented in Rome first, possibly as early as 1400 B.C. 

7. The 1950s

The 1950s had icons like Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe, so sexuality during this time became less shocking. Swimsuits still were often high-waisted and could resemble a skirt, but belly-baring was common now. The top was normally a halter top/bra.

8. The 1960s

Second Wave Feminism was telling women to wear what they wanted and felt comfortable with. Not to worry about what the patriarchy thought. The 1960s were all about wearing what made you feel comfortable and free. Women started wearing tops with micro-straps. 

9. The 1970s 

During this time they burned belts, and women's rights were becoming strong. The 1970s were at the height of the sexual revolution, so it was about wearing barely-there swimsuits. You could get a swimsuit in a variety of fabrics. The 1970's high-cut leg wasn't as extreme as the 1980s, but women were showing more than the 1960s.

String bikinis came about, and one-piece swimsuits showed more than before. 

10. The 1980s

In the 1980s, it was all about bright-hued clothing and swimsuits. They were comfortable showing off their bodies more during this time period as well. During this time it was all about sculpting your body at the gym, and women were independent thinkers who wanted to show off their own style. 

11. The 1990s

The 1990s were all about wearing crotch-baring suits with a high hip-baring rise. Think of Baywatch and the one-piece hip-baring swimsuits. 

12. 2000s-Today

Today you can wear whatever you'd like whether it's a string bikini or more vintage look bathing suit. There are millions of different styles you can choose from to represent yourself and your personality. 

The History of Swimsuits

Several years ago, the United States tested a hydrogen bomb over Namu Island, in the Bikini Atoll region. The bomb which was 15 megatons, exploded at 15,000 feet which caused a 4-mile fireball, 500 times brighter than the sun. 

It was actually the first airborne test of the hydrogen bomb. In May 1946, Louis Reard, who was a French car engineer, introduced two pieces of fabric calling them the smallest bathing suit in the world. 

He named it Bikini Atoll because he thought everyone would be shocked by the swimsuit and the curves it showed off. The bikini actually caused more surprise and shock than the nuclear tests performed by The Soviet Union and the United States. 

The bikini was so shocking that many in the U.S. refused to wear it until a decade later. Looking back at mosaics, it's clear bikinis were around long before this, back during the Roman Times. There's a mosaic at the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily that shows bikini wearing. Also, in Pompeii, there were statues of the goddess Venus wearing a bikini. 

Times are always changing, and something that seems like it was invented recently, could have very well been invented long ago and forgotten about. 

Next Steps

There was quite a change in the history of swimsuits, comparing the 1920s swimwear to today. If you're looking for fashionable swimwear today, check out our products

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Karen Louis
Karen Louis

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Size Guide

Flexibility is a key aspect of our designs and so Mavele bikinis are customisable wherever possible with soft ties and adjustable straps. The table below shows our sizing guide in US, UK and EUR sizes.

XS 2 6 34
S 4 8 36
M 6 10 38
L 8 12 40
XL 10 14 42

 Size Bust (Inches) Waist (Inches) Hips (Inches)
XL 38-40 31-33 42-43
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