Written by: Cat Geruson
Whether wearing a cut-out one-piece or an athletic-inspired two piece, bathing suits are an intrinsic part of summer. However, the suits that many of us sport nowadays are very different from what people used to wear to the beach. Here’s a quick history of the bathing suit.
Before the 20th century, bathing suits took on a variety of names and styles. In the 17th century long billowing “bathing gowns” were worn followed by ornate “seaside walking dresses.” Beach attire was extremely modest, showing minimal skin, as most clothes for women were during this time.
Over the next century, some of the excessive fabric was eliminated from beach wear, and the clothes were often sailor-inspired. Swimming, however, was still not a common leisure activity for women, so the clothes were not practical to our standards today. Imagine making sand castles or boogie boarding in a full length dress!
At the beginning of the 20th century, women began showing their arms and legs in shorter dresses or bloomers and tunics at the beach. These were made from heavy fabric, often wool; not ideal for leisurely floating along in the ocean, but much better than having the bottom of one’s long dress drag in the sand!
In 1915, the term “swimming suit” was finally coined by Jantzen, a company in Portland, and slowly bathing suits became much more stylized and body-hugging. They were now becoming both purposeful and attractive, as swimming was now a common beach activity for both men and women.
In 1946, bathing suit history was made as the first bikini was created by Louis Reard. The name was inspired by the atomic bomb tests that were occurring during this time at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Reard hoped his iconic idea would be as “explosive” as these post war tests, and indeed it was.
By the 1960s, bikinis were a part of the beach norm, as were more detailed one-pieces. Bathing suits had become less about function, more about fashion, drastically different from the seemingly sack-like dresses worn only a century ago. Polka-dots, stripes, and high-wasted bottoms for bikinis were common in the 60s and 70s, and have even made a comeback now. In the 80s, bikini bottoms were especially tiny, showing more skin than ever before.
Now, there are many varieties of bathing suits to fit not only everyone’s personal style, but every unique body type. Anything goes!