Though swimwear can be traced back as far as 4 A.D., The concept of wearing a swimsuit as a fashionable garment that provides enough freedom of movement to be worn in the water is a 20th century concept. Early swimwear, prior to the 1940’s, had more to do with modesty than with looks or function. And although Victorian women wore bathing costumes at the beach, a woman could certainly not swim in one comfortably.
In the 1940’s, corset manufacturers started creating bathing suits with built-in tummy control panels and bra cups that accentuated the female figure. Bathing suits not only started to become glamorous but were even beginning to be featured in popular film extravaganzas called aquamusicals where groups of women would perform synchronized swimming and diving routines against beautiful backdrops of lights and fountains. Esther Williams starred in many of these films as well as in a biographical film called, Million Dollar Mermaid, based on the life of Annette Kellerman.
Swimwear of the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s followed the silhouette mostly from the early 1930’s whereas after World War II, a new wardrobe and style of vacation-swimwear arose, coupled with an increase of leisure time and bustling postwar resorts.
Two-piece swimsuits without the usual skirt panel and other superfluous material started appearing in the U.S. when the government ordered the 10% reduction in fabric used in woman's swimwear in 1943 as wartime rationing. By that time, two-piece swimsuits were ubiquitous on American beaches.
Despite the reaction to the 2-pieces swimsuit worn by Brigitte Bardot in Manina, the Girl in the Bikini in 1952, most women in the 1950’s still wore one-piece suits. To increasing female emancipation and realized the commercial possibilities of beauty pageants, big companies launched beauty contests to find girls who could help promote products, believing that a picture of a pretty girl in a swimsuit was the best promotion. Instead of swimsuits, these contests popularized the playsuit, but swimsuits remained the highlight in the beauty contest.
By the late 1950’s, new materials were developed and applied on the corsetry swimwear, such as Lastex, a fabric woven from artificial chromspun acetate that used for a more tightly fitted appearance. Speedo produced the wool and cotton swimwear for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. The bikini had a colorful period on the cinema screens and made an impact in the late 1950’s, inspired by the film such as And God Created Woman by Roger Vadim, launched Bardot into the spotlight and became the benchmark for bikini on celluloid. Also, her outfit sets a whole new trend for sex symbols.
In 1964, designer Rudi Gernreich conceived and produced the monokini, a revolutionary and controversial design included a bottom that "extended from the midriff to the upper thigh" and was "held up by shoestring laces that make a halter around the neck."
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