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Vintage Swimsuits Through the Decades: A Century of Swimwear

1900s swimwear

While swimwear has existed since the mid-1800s, when people started swimming as a leisure activity for the first time, the original costumes they wore are a far cry from the suits of today. Alongside the evolution of fashion – and society as a whole – swimwear has gone through huge changes over the past century.

Take a look at our photo highlights to find out more about vintage swimsuits through the decades…


mens swimwear 1910s

womens olympic swimming team 1912

Although preserving modesty was a priority for swimwear designers, the turn-of-the-century costumes — romperlike suits featuring sleeveless tops and shorts — revealed a little more of the male and female form than previous Victorian designs.

Image credit: Public domain, and published in The Fifth Olympiad.


Bathing suit 1920s

Early in this decade, the amount of fabric used to make bathing suits began to decrease, exposing more skin and hugging the swimmer’s contours. They also took on a more stylish look, some with patterned designs.

Image under public domain.


1930s swimwear

By the ’30s, women’s bathing suits began to take on a remote resemblance to modern-day swimwear as we know it. For men, though, it was a different story, as their swimwear remained full bodied suits.

Image under public domain.


1940s bikini pinup girl

1940s swimwear

In 1946, the world was forever changed by French engineer Louis Reard, who patented the bikini. He named it after the nuclear testing site Bikini Atoll, for its explosive effect on the viewer! For men, costumes were becoming skimpier, as displayed by these soldiers stationed in Cairns.

Images under public domain (1, 2)


1950s swimwear

Hollywood glamour inspired the evolution of swimwear in the 1950s, as these gorgeous women’s costumes suggest:

Image credit: Glamour Daze


Marilyn Monroe swimming costume

1960s mens swim shorts

As minds were busy expanding during the Swinging Sixties, bikinis and costumes for both men and women were doing the opposite – shrinking.

Image credit: Public domain, Classic Film


1970s string bikini

Bikini bottoms for women finally became higher-cut in the ’70s, when what we know today as the string bikini started to make waves.

Image credit: Style Shack


1980s swim shorts

1980s swimwear

The 80s was a decade of bright colour, pumped-up volume and vibrant designs – and men’s swimwear was clearly no exception.

Image credit: Dust Factory Vintage, Chron


1990s Baywatch era

This is the era of swimsuit history that can be summed up in one, single, red costume. This is the era of Baywatch:

Image credit: Collider

2000s until today

man and woman on beach holiday

In the present day, swimwear colour, style and design are more versatile than ever before, for both women and men.

Image credits: Public domain

So, wherever you decide to go for your summer holiday, take some inspiration from the fascinating evolution of swimwear fashion through the ages when you pick and pack this year’s costume.