A Brief History Of Swimwear: Iconic Trends From The 1950s To Now

Swimwear has always been a polarising topic within the fashion industry as the swimsuit reveals a lot more than what meets the eye. The evolution of swimwear not only reflects the emerging trends between decades but also gives us an insight into the changing societal expectations for women. Here’s a look back at some of the era-defining swimwear trends over the last 70 years.

The 1950s

Despite Louis Réard’s invention of the bikini in 1946, most women still opted for the more modest one-piece swimsuit. For example, the sweetheart neckline halter neck one piece with a skirted bottom was an iconic silhouette that perfectly represented pin-up glamour. Swimsuits in the 50s were predominantly made from Lastex, which is a synthetic fabric made from the combination of cotton, acetate and taffeta. At this time, it was considered taboo to have one’s belly button on display so It’s no surprise that Brigitte Bardot’s starring role in the 1952 film, ‘Manina, the Girl in the Bikini’ was highly controversial. Channel your inner pin-up girl with this beautiful 50s inspired one piece from Norma Kamali (Bill Ruched Checked Halterneck Swimsuit in Black, £205).

The 1960s

The 60s saw the rising popularity of the bikini. The high waisted bottom with a structured bikini top were a go-to pairing, which only exposed the midriff. However, low cut bikini bottoms also became more in demand and they were typically made from lycra to ensure a more secure fit. Pretty pastels, geometric patterns and colour blocking were also very on-trend. This Odyssee high-waisted bikini perfectly encapsulates the colour blocking trend in a modern way (Azur Bikini Top and Azur Belted Bikini Briefs in Navy, both £125).

The 1970s

As the decades go on, the swimsuits get smaller and challenge the norms of modesty. The 1970s popularised the teeny bikini as it became more acceptable for women to bare more skin than ever. Oversized sunglasses served as the perfect addition to the teeny bikini. Women also embraced less structured swimsuit silhouettes than before and they were often minimally lined. The bohemian fashion of the time was also reflected in swimsuits, which can be seen in the crocheted bikini trend. If you’re into the 70s look, check out this bohemian crochet bikini by Missoni (Crochet-Knit Triangle Bikini in Blue, £340).

The 1980s

Fashion in the 80s was a time to be your boldest, most extravagant self and the swimwear was no exception. The high cut leg with a low cut top swimsuit was a popular style that closely resembled the athletic wear of the time. The rise of thong swimsuits also reflected the daring reputation of 1980s style. To ensure maximum stretch, swimsuits were typically made from either lycra. Over the top floral prints and neons were all the rage in the 80s and could be seen in every catalogue and fashion magazine. Be a bold babe in this incredible plunging reversible one-piece from Poolside Gossip (Shimmer One Piece in Gold Reversible, £195).

The 1990s

The 90s witnessed a return to minimalism, as mirrored in the popularity of understated colour palettes in swimwear. The swimsuit styles of the 90s often had a sleek look such as a bandeau top paired with a full brief or boy short. The rise of Baywatch on the small screen was a huge inspiration for swimwear with the iconic high cut, scoop neck one piece that gives a nod to earlier styles from the 80s. If you’re after a minimal but stylish bikini, check out this Broochini bandeau bikini with a cross tie back (Toulouse Top Moon Beach, £95 paired with the Kakula Brief in Island Fig, £90).

The 2000s

The sporty, surfer girl look was highly sought-after in the 2000s following the iconic 2002 flick, Blue Crush. Bikini tops were often paired with mismatched bottoms for an effortless laid back feel. The popular triangle bikini could also be seen partnered with a sarong tied around the waist as a beach coverup. For a more covering alternative, the tankini was a widely popular option following its invention by Anne Cole. Radiate cool surfer girl vibes by pairing this Eres bikini top (Les Essentiels Mouna Triangle Bikini Top in Saffron, £110) with these Cult Gaia bikini briefs (Sloane Printed Bikini Briefs in Orange, £143).

The 2010s

In the age of social media, there is a growing desire to get that Instagram-worthy swimsuit pic which has seen a rise in embellished and ornate swimsuits that are perfect for photos. Swimwear trends in the 2010s also pay tribute to retro styles and patterns. The high waist bikini paired with a halterneck top has become a new modern classic. The classic 80s trend of the high cut leg swimsuit and animal print has also made a comeback in a big way. Level up your swimsuit game with this beautiful La Revêche embellished swimsuit (Hannan Plum Purple, €245).

The 2020s

With a growing environmentally conscious society, the 2020s is just the beginning of the sustainable fashion movement. The majority of modern swimwear is made from a mix of Nylon and Lycra which have had huge detrimental effects on the environment. Fortunately, swimwear brands such as Stay Wild Swim are using ethically made fabrics such as ECONYL which is made from recycled plastics. In addition, Body positivity and representation of all bodies is a standard that should be met by every brand in the swimwear industry. For example, Deakin and Blue caters to bust sizes from an AA to an HH cup and sizes 8 to 20.

Swimsuit trends in the 2020s are not only stylish, but they’re also sustainable and inclusive. The athletic look has become popular, which often features a zipper detail at the front and built-in support. Check out Stay Wild Swim (Odyssey One Piece in Rust, £170) and Deakin and Blue (Round Neck Swimsuit in Mint Blue, £80) to get the look. Unique cutouts and shapes are also a modern way of adding interest to a swimsuit. Arabella London’s cutout one piece (The Bustier Bodysuit in True Black, £315) is a gorgeous summer must-have. Belts are another vintage-inspired trending swimwear staple that you need to try. This Fisch belted swimsuit is a universally flattering cut for all body types (Blixen Belted Swimsuit in Army Green, £200).

Featured image by David Wills via The Guardian 

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