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Vintage Swimsuits Through the Decades: A Century of 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…

1910s

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.

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.

1930s

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.

1940s

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.

1950s

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

1960s

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

1970s

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

1980s

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

1990s

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

2000s until today

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

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.