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. 

The July 9, 1945, Life shows women in Paris wearing similar items. Hollywood stars like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner tried similar swimwear or beachwear. Pin ups of Hayworth and Esther Williams in the costume were widely distributed. The most provocative swimsuit was the 1946 Moonlight Buoy, a bottom and a top of material that weighed only eight ounces. What made the Moonlight Buoy distinctive was a large cork buckle attached to the bottoms, which made it possible to tie the top to the cork buckle and splash around au naturel while keeping both parts of the suit afloat. Life magazine had a photo essay on the Moonlight Buoy and wrote, "The name of the suit, of course, suggests the nocturnal conditions under which nude swimming is most agreeable.
Also in 1946, French designer Louis Reard introduced the world to the first modern-day bikini. Reard was inspired to name his two-piece after a newsworthy US atomic bomb test which took place in Bikini Atoll. Though two-piece bathing suits were common in the years leading up to World War II, they usually covered a woman’s navel, leaving only a bit of midriff visible. In contrast, Reard’s bikini featured significantly less fabric than its predecessors. In fact, Reard’s bikini was so risqué that the designer had to hire Micheline Bernardini, a Parisian showgirl and stripper, to model it. Around the same time that Reard introduced his bikini, A similar swimsuit, called the "atome," was introduced by fashion designer Jacques Heim. Teen magazines in the late 1940’s and 1950’s featured similar designs of midriff-baring suits and tops. However, midriff fashion was stated as only for beaches and informal events and considered indecent to be worn in public.

In 1951, A huge celebration called "The Festival of Britain" was promoted of everything new and modern and cast a line into the future, building on a feeling of hope. Beachwear style were very popular in U.S and Europe, but this fashion originated on the French Riviera, which people was quoted this place as "A sunny place for shady people". Keeping in line with the ultra-feminine look dominated by Dior which brought out his one and only collection of swimwear for the Cole of California in 1955. He designed a series of floral printed swimsuits with halter neckline style. It evolved into a dress followed his New Look silhouette with cinched waists and constructed bustlines, accessorized with earrings, bracelets, hats, scarves, sunglasses, handbags and cover-ups. American Women inspired by Hollywood’s film stars for example, Doris Day offering a” girl-next-door’ look and the coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth in May 1952.

accessorized with earrings, bracelets, hats, scarves, sunglasses, hand bags and cover-ups. American Women inspired by Hollywood’s film stars For example, Doris Day offering a” girl-next-door’ look and the coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth in May 1952.

In the early 1950’s, other synthetics beside the screen print technique were being developed, such as polyester and acrylic, with quick-drying properties. In U.S, the Hawaiian -Japanese- inspired prints were often used. In Europe, Emilio Pucci moved swimwear textile on a generation when he began to design prints for Rose Marrie Reid swimwear.


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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