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Swimwear Over The Ages

Filed under: Uncategorized — emitaliablog
Posted on July 17, 2010 @ 1:29 pm
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Swimwear is the term used for garments designated for swimming and beach wear. It has gradually changed over the years from the bulky garments used to completely cover the body into the selection of brief pieces of fabric arranged to expose as much as possible of the body.

Finding the right sort of swimwear is not always that easy particularly if you do not have a large budget. There is an enormous variety of body sizes and shapes for both men and women and correspondingly there are an enormous variety of outfits ranging from the very cheap to the very expensive.

Fashion Dictates

If it was just a case of having a bathing costume to wear when going swimming and replacing it when it had worn out, life would be relatively easy. But there is the matter of fashion. Every year the makers come up with a different style so that the previous year’s model suddenly looks old fashioned and we feel compelled to buy a new one. As purchasers we are confronted with one piece swimsuits, two piece swimwear, some with long tops, some with skimpy tops, high leg cut, high waist cut, different cup sizes, in a variety of fabrics, colours, patterns, two tone and so on. The choice is endless.

History of Swimwear

The earliest recorded bathing costume was in 350 BC in Greece which was a toga-like garment for bathing. During the 18th century people visited spa resorts for their health where they spent time in the spa waters. Naturally they needed something proper to wear, other than their day clothes, when they were engaged in public bathing. Later the recreation of beach bathing demanded a specially made outfit to maintain decorum and decency, so the bathing suit was developed.

Initially the swimwear was rather like ordinary daywear, and the dresses worn by the women sometimes had lead weights sewn into the hems to prevent the skirts from floating up. As the expansion of the railways enabled the masses to spend time at the seaside a more practical type of outfit was required. By the early 1900’s the swimsuit consisted of bloomers with black stocking and shoes, and the top was like a jacket belted at the waist. Swimming was considered suitable for men, while women were assisted into the water for a short dip.

Over the century attitudes changed and swimming became an Olympic sport for both men and women. Gradually the swimming costume changed to adopt short capped sleeves and more ankle was exposed beneath the bloomers. As women became more active in the water the swimming costume needed to be less cumbersome so the neckline was lowered and the tops became sleeveless. Eventually the Princess cut was introduced which consisted of the trousers attached to a blouse in one piece.

In 1909 Annette Kellerman, the Australianswimmer, silver screen star and author, served to establish todays ladies swimwear styles when she dressed in a loose one piece suit and was even arrested for indecency, by 1910 “Annette Kellermans” had become the contemporary accepted womens swimwear.

From then on the swimsuits became lighter and briefer. By the 1920’s the women wore figure hugging tank suits made from wool Jersey and by 1928 they had evolved into the swimsuit we would recognise today. In the 1930’s cotton was introduced for bathing suits sometimes with little overskirts to disguise bulky thighs, but film stars wore fashionable figure hugging costumes with higher cut legs sealing the fate of the fashionable swimwear.

The corset manufacturers in the 1940’s saw that women with less than perfect figures needed swimsuits to hide or control the bulges, so seeing a gap in the market they produced costumes which had control panels for the tummy and bra cups and bones to give support to the bust. Using the methods applied in corset making they introduced the stretch factor to bathing costumes so that they were more flattering than ever before.

With the development of new fabrics, Nylon and Lycra became the fabric of choice for swimwear because of their stretch properties. This meant that the costume could be pulled on without openings or fastenings and gave a firmer cleaner line to the figure. Women continued to wear all in one swimsuits until the 1950’s when the bikini became popular.

Leisure Swimming or Sunbathing

Although certain costumes are called swimwear, in fact some never get near the water. They are solely for sunbathing which usually means they are as small as possible, just barely covering the essential bits so that the skin gets maximum exposure to the sun and such a design would be classed as a bikini.

Two Piece or Bikinis

Over two thousand years ago early mosaics and pottery from Greece depict what in fact looks like an early version of a bikini. These garments were used by women performers and acrobats and were in two pieces to cover the breasts and the lower part of the body, much like the current style of Bandeau tops. Modern day runners and athletes wear something very similar when competing. Paula Radcliffe when running the Marathon last year, wore a garment almost identical to those worn thousands of years ago!!

The bikini resembles women’s underwear and has been described as a scanty two piece bathing suit. The lower part may be two small triangles attached together with a string tie at either side, or even a thong. The upper part may also be two small triangles attached together with a string tie but arranged in a slightly different order. Louis Reard patented the contemporary version of the bikini in 1946; his design was similar to the skimpy string 1970’s bikini and it shocked the world when it appeared on French beaches in 1947.

The very first bikini shown in the cinema was in the Bond film Dr No when Ursula Andress rises out of the sea in a white bikini. This created the iconic Bond girl and made her world famous. When being interviewed on television recently she revealed that the bikini had been constructed out of a bra covered with the fabric to give her the required lift of the bosom. This actual bikini sold at auction for &pound35,000 in 2001.

The size of swimwear bikinis progressively got smaller and smaller while the trend for tanning an increasing amount of of the body grew.

Ultimately the top part of the bikini was abandoned altogether when topless sunbathing became the norm in some countries and the bottom was just a G-string or thong also called a Tanga. Oliver Saillard the fashion journalist states that the bikini is the most popular female beachwear in the world, and that the emancipation of swimwear is linked to the emancipation of women.

In the 1950’s there was a popular song entitled ‘In My little Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ that indicated the acceptance of the new style of swimwear. I remember my cousin persuading me to try on a bikini and I felt very exposed but she said how incredible I looked in it because I was so slim.

Although the bikini is now an acceptable garment whatever the size, the one piece swimsuit is still the best for serious swimmers. Some firms are well known for their skill at making swimwear and make all the garments for the Olympic team and other swimming competitions. Now swimwear is available in a wide range of bust sizes and the more expensive makes have control panels for the stomach combined with clever styling to create a good silhouette. Combined with a matching sarong, older ladies may feel more comfortable when walking around the beach area.

Helen Mirren was photographed on holiday in her substantial bikini last summer with the caption commenting on how good she looked for her age and that particular bikini was snapped up from the stores within days. Perhaps the buyers believed that they could look as good as Helen Mirren in a bikini if they had the same one.

Leg Line

Some two piece bathing suits are cut so that the waist is high and the corresponding leg line is also cut high. I believe the aim is to make the wearer look as though her legs are much longer than they are. However if you have less than the perfect shape for this style it can emphasise large hips so it’s not for all women.

Another fashion style is the tankini where the bottoms look like little shorts and shows the lower curve of the bottom, which is fine if you are young with a nice pert bottom.

Tankinis are a common new style of swimwear clothes showing that with just a tiny strip of bare midriff showing, less is more.

The classic bikini style is still as popular as ever though, with the cut of the leg line following the natural crease between the leg and the hip.

The most recent development in fabric is the ‘tan through’ swimwear. This allows the body to tan without exposing the body to the world. Some commentators on this style point to the effects of too much sun on the body and the incidences of skin cancer of which the evidence indicates an alarming increase. However, the counter argument to that is if you are wearing a bikini anyway then the extra exposure to the sun through the top and bottom garments is hardly going to make much difference.


Swimwear is a term used these days to cover all types of beach wear and swimming gear. It is a bit of a misnomer in that many outfits never see the water and are not used for swimming. However there is a huge range of garments available for the purchaser of different styles, sizes and fabrics. The one commonality of course is that everyone wants to look good once they don these garments. The main key to that is to make sure your new swimwear is the right fit and cut, for your body size and shape.

The importance of being properly measured for your swimwear is often overlooked but it is as important as being properly measured for your bra or other underwear, particularly if you do indeed intend to actually swim in your new swimwear! By wearing the right size and style swimwear for your body, will ensure you are really comfortable in it on the beach, in the pool or wherever else you choose to wear it.

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