Belfast Telegraph

From cover-ups to cutaways: The evolution of the swimming costume

How did we get from weighty wool bathing suits to teenie-weenie bikinis? Katie Wright looks back at the evolution of the swimming costume through decades

As you throw a bikini (or five) into your suitcase this summer, spare a thought for your Victorian ancestors, who, if they wanted to 'take to the waters' on the UK's coast, had to get trussed up in a wool ensemble that's more like a winter coat than modern-day beachwear.

But how did we get from the cumbersome bathing suits of yore to the barely-there bikinis of today?

Here, we chart the history of swimwear from the start of the 20th century to now.

1910s

Early 20th century bathing suits were exactly that - woollen all-in-ones that extended from neck to knees, with a skirt worn on top to disguise ladies' silhouettes. But by the end of the decade, a (slightly) more streamlined suit allowed for easier swimming.

2017-07-13_lif_32827726_I4.JPG
Early 20th century bathing suits were exactly that - woollen all-in-ones that extended from neck to knees, with a skirt worn on top to disguise ladies' silhouettes

1920s

By the Twenties, one-piece jersey bathing suits were getting shorter and clingier, inspired by the French 'maillot'. Some women still chose to wear more modest two-pieces, however, meaning a swimdress worn over shorts, topped off with a rubber swimcap.

2017-07-13_lif_32827698_I1.JPG
By the Twenties, one-piece jersey bathing suits were getting shorter and clingier, inspired by the French 'maillot'

1930s and 40s

Designs became more creative in the Thirties, with the arrival of stretchy 'lastex' fabric and dyes that wouldn't fade in the sun.

Bright halterneck and racer back swimsuits that exposed more skin were in vogue as the fashion for sunbathing took off.

In 1945, French engineer Louis Reard introduced his game-changing bikini, so called because he expected its impact to be as explosive as the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll island.

The design started to gain popularity as Hollywood sirens were seen in two-pieces.

1950s

The one-piece still reigned supreme in the Fifties, when an hourglass figure was the shape women aspired to. Corseted and padded swimsuits sucked in the waist, while emphasising the bust, with strapless and sweetheart necklines all the rage.

2017-07-13_lif_32827699_I2.JPG
The one-piece still reigned supreme in the Fifties, when an hourglass figure was the shape women aspired to

1960s and 70s

While swimwear evolution was gradual in the first half of the 20th century, the Sixties saw a sea change. Perhaps signalled by Brian Hyland's Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini becoming a worldwide hit in 1960, during the subsequent 10 years, swimsuits got even skimpier, bikinis were widely embraced and the introduction of Lycra meant the end of swimwear that sagged in the sea.

1980s

2017-07-13_lif_32827987_I3.JPG
The athletic aesthetic of the Eighties lead to a penchant for sporty swimwear styles, with neon colours, tiny triangle bikini tops and ultra high-cut thong bottoms de rigueur
 

The athletic aesthetic of the Eighties lead to a penchant for sporty swimwear styles, with neon colours, tiny triangle bikini tops and ultra high-cut thong bottoms de rigueur.

1990s to now

The Nineties most iconic swimwear came courtesy of TV smash hit Baywatch, which saw its female stars clad in high-leg, low-cut swimsuits, running in slow-motion. During the Noughties, the one-piece fell out of fashion somewhat, but we're now seeing a return to Baywatch-style cossies and cut-out swimwear.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph