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Bikini History: The Evolution of Ladies Swimwear

Bikini History Sandy Swim
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From high waisted micro bikinis to backless one pieces, it's the year 2019 and at Sandy Swim there is certainly no shortage of swimwear designs to satisfy every swimsuit lover. However, the history of the bikini hasn't always been so colorful, the concept of bathing suits as we know it today didn't really surface till the early 1900s, and it's safe to say that ladies swimwear has indeed come a long way.

Keep reading to learn about the evolution of ladies swimwear throughout history.

The Early 1800s

The 1800s was a time when people began to really enjoy recreational time at the beach. However, this was a time of extreme modesty - no itsy bitsy bikinis here! Instead, women were required to wear long dresses that were held down with weights to prevent any leg from showing. Stockings were also to be worn by women ensuring that nothing was exposed to the eye. A vast difference from Sandy Swim bikinis like the Aisha or Khloe.

1800s ladies swimwear

It was custom for women in the 1800s to wear long dresses and stockings to the beach.

The Early 1900s

in 1907 the Australian underwater ballerina Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for indecent exposure. Her swimsuit showed her arms, legs, and neck. She was wearing a costume she found in England that was similar to mens swimsuits of the time. Kellerman appropriated the suit to have long arms, legs and a higher neck, and began marketing her one-piece style as "the Annette Kellerman". By 1910 women throughout Europe were heading to the beach in their Annette Kellerman swimsuit.

"Annette Kellerman Bathing Attire is distinguished by an incomparable, daring beauty of fit that always remains refined." - Harper's Bazaar 

The Roaring 1920s

During the 1920s bathhouses and spas became a popular destination amongst women and swimsuits became less about being practical and more about being stylish with more decorative features being included in the 1920s bathing suit design. Materials like rayon, jersey and even silk were used to evoke a more chic effect. The 1920s also introduced the concept of two piece swimsuits - due to the popularity of vaudeville and burlesque performers who would wear two piece suits on stage and in films exposing their midriffs. This was a huge change in swimsuit culture from the early 1800s when women couldn't even show their ankles.

1920 ladies swimsuit

The 1920s birthed the beginning of the bikini as we know it today.

The 1930s

By the 1930s necklines were plunging in comparison to the styles of previous decades. Sleeves also disappeared and with the development of materials like nylon and latex, ladies swimwear really started to fit individual body types and for the first time women were able to adjust the straps of their swimsuits to suit their tanning needs and a day at the beach became a glamorous event for women who loved to soak up the sun.

ladies swimwear 1930s

The stylish ladies swimwear of the 1930s.

The Mid 1900s

The swimwear of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, reflected that of a post war atmosphere where beach leisure time and post-war resorts became the norm. Due to the fabric shortage of World War Two the War Production Board requested that there be a 10% reduction of material used in the making of ladies beachwear - two piece swimsuits with bare midriffs became a trend to comply with the new regulations.

Ladies Swimwear 1940s

Less material meant more bare midriffs bikinis for ladies heading to the beach in the mid 1900s.

The 1960s

Introducing the Monokini, designed in 1964 by Rudi Gernreich. The Monokini consisted only of a close fitting bottom, two thin straps and exposed breasts. The swimsuit was designed as a protest against a repressive society. The modern bikini is also referred to as a topless bikini, topless swimsuit and unkini. 

The 70s, 80s and 90s.

At the 1972 Olympics, for the first time ever, swimmers added elastane to their suits to improve their performance. As a result, 21 out of 22 olympic records were broken this year due to the use of the new suits. In the 1980s, Rudi Gerneich who invented the Monokini, went a step further and invented the pubikini (I will let you decide how that may have looked:-)). The 1990s birthed the popular Tankini - a bikini bottom with a tank top. The popular design quickly captured a third of the swimwear market with its flexible bikini look while offering the modesty of a one-piece bathing suit for women who desired a little more coverage.


Did you or anyone you know own a Tankini?

The 2000s

The new century has seen the bikini take strides like never before. It's as though anything goes - whatever style suits you can be yours. Although we are glad to see that stockings at the beach are no longer on trend, we are glad that if you desire a high waisted bikini similar to that of last century you can check out Sandy Swim's Bandeau bikini, or if you prefer a plunging one piece bathing suit, check out Lexi in black or white. The 2000s has swimsuits for all women.

Swimsuits, like women have come a long way, lets keep on evolving!

If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out more on The Latest Splash.

Sea you at the beach,

The Sandy Swim Team. xx 


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