Ancient Rome: The First Bikini?
While most people in the ancient world would have gone swimming in the altogether, this Roman mosaic from Sicily shows us that maybe the bikini has some earlier origins than we thought!
Of course, these two-piece garments might not have been intended for swimming, but it shows that the bandeau top has a rich history.
1700s: Bathing Machines And Weighted Gowns
For female bathers in the 18th century, modesty was a must.
Special carts called “bathing machines,” seen here, would be wheeled up to the water, allowing the women to hop in and out of the water without being seen.
To swim, they wore long, thick nightgown-like dresses. The fabric was chosen to not get see-through when wet, and the hems were even weighted to keep them from billowing up in the water.
Needless to say, you couldn’t go in very deep!
Early 1800s: Seaside Gowns
Because actually swimming was such a pain with all that fabric, many women in the early 1800s opted to simply walk on the shore.
The gowns were still long, but much more lightweight than earlier versions.
These gowns also started to feature loose trousers underneath, allowing for easier movement.
1850s: Bloomers Begin
By the mid-19th century, the skirted portions of the bathing suits had become shorter, showing the bloomers or “Turkish pants” underneath.
These would have still been made out of heavy flannel fabric, though, which would have prevented a lot of motion. Women also took to covering their hair in hats and scarves.
1870s: Men's Suits Show Off A Little More
Men liked to swim, too, but on public beaches, they also had to cover up. These one-piece designs featured trunks and a button-up shirt portion.
Like women’s suits, though, they were often made of heavy fabrics that would weigh swimmers down.
1890s: Suits Get A Little Sportier
As the years progressed, suits slowly shrank.
For women, the puffy swimming trousers were replaced with more form-fitting tights, and the sleeves became much shorter.
For men and women, dark colors and light accents were popular.
1900s: Bathing Suits Still Look Like Dresses
For the more modest bather, a day at the beach would include a “bathing dress” like this one, usually made of taffeta or mohair, and usually in black so as not to be even the slightest bit see-through.
1900s: ... And Suits Get Skimpier
However, for the young and hip, suits in the 1900s got brighter, tighter, and shorter.
These young women are wearing some cutting-edge bathing suit fashions.
They’re quite short, comparatively, and sleeveless. However, they do still include the dark tights and slippers.
The woman on the right has what appears to be a bright pair of lace-up slippers.
1910s: Suits Get Sporty... And Scandalous
Professional swimmer and vaudeville performer Annette Kellerman revolutionized swimsuits when she appeared in this form-fitting one-piece in Australia.
The tight fit allowed for freedom of movement and speed in the water, but Kellerman was actually arrested for indecency when she wore this.
But it was too late. Swimsuits would be form-fitting ever after.
1920s: Suits Lose The Tights
By the 1920s, women were no longer wearing tights with their bathing suits, opting instead to go bare-legged.
Suits also lost the skirt, and began looking more like men’s one-piece suits.
This androgynous look went along with the boyish, athletic flapper style that dominated the 1920s.
1930s: The Early Beginnings Of The Two Piece
Suits didn’t change a lot in the 1930s, except for one thing: They started coming in two pieces rather than one!
Midriff-baring suits were popular with young women, and featured high-waisted bottoms and full-coverage tops, with only a hint of skin showing between.
1946: The Official First Bikini
It wasn’t the fact that the bikini was two pieces that shocked everyone, it was how skimpy it was.
In fact, professional models didn’t even want to wear it, so exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini was hired.
In this photo, Bernardini is holding a tiny box to show that the swimsuit is so small, it can fit completely inside!
The name “bikini” comes from the Bikini Atoll, where atomic weapons were being tested at the time.
1964: The Bathing Suit That Never Caught On
The “monokini” was designed by Rudi Gernriech in 1964 as a bottom held up by nothing but two thin straps.
And it certainly caused a splash: It was both denounced as indecent and celebrated as liberating!
However, most women, especially American women, weren’t too keen on being topless, and the monokini never caught on.
But while it shocked the world, model Peggy Moffitt, seen here, insisted that it was about freedom, not shock value.
1970s: Crochet And Creativity
You could find crochet and macrame everything in the 1970s, and bathing suits were no exception. They could be fairly scanty, like this one, or provide fuller coverage.
Many women found enjoyment in creating their own crocheted bathing suits, giving swimwear a unique, personalized touch.
Today, we have all kinds of options available for swimwear, so we can get a suit that does exactly what we need it to do, whether it’s show off, cover up, or get active!
SHARE this fascinating history of bathing suits with the swimmers and sunbathers in your life!