The Evolution of the Bathing Suit

This timeline travels back thorugh history exploring the evolution of the bathing suit and its influence on society.


The 18th Century

1700 - 1799

In the early 1800s, people started to flock to the beaches, especially with the introduction of new railroads. Thus, seaside amusements and beaches became popular for sunny recreations. The privileged women at the time were in need of a swim garment, a long beach dress equipped with wights in the hem to prevent the dress from riding up. However, this Victorian-era suit soon went through some changes in functionality.

Regency Era

1800 - 1849

The early 1800s marked the emphasis of swimwear on society. Seaside recreation was at its highest ever and a code of proper attire while swimming was established. This is a description of an 1810 swim dress: "A gown of white French cambric, or pale pink muslin, with long sleeves, and antique cuffs of thin white muslin worn over trowsers of white French cambric, which are trimmed the same as the bottom of the dress. A figured short scarf of pale buff, with deep pale-green border, and rich silk tassels; with gloves of pale buff kid; and sandals of pale yellow, or white Morocco, complete this truly simple but becoming dress."

Mid-19th Century

1850 - 1870

In the mid-19th Century, bathing suits covered most of the body.These bathing suits were found in many magazines of the day such as Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1864. The typical swim suit of this time was long bloomers made from heavy flanned and other weighty fabrics that clearly weigh down the swimmer.


1890 - 1899

The swimwear in the 1890s changed somewhat from early prototypes. Women typically dressed in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, usually featuring a sailor collar, which was worn over bloomers trimmed with ribbons and bows. The bathing suit was typically accessorized with long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy caps. The 1890s is when sun hats became popular, too.


1900 - 1909

At the end of the 19th century, people flocked to the ocean more than ever before! In the beginning of the 20th Century gender roles started to take a turn. By 1920, women had the right to vote. Similarly, a decade before that, women stopped being arrested for showing their legs and shoulders at the beach. What mostly changed was that women started to swim, really swim. At this time, swimming became a competitive sport and women participated both in school and recreational. For this reason, the bathing suit became more functional. It was still made of wool, but was a lot smaller. A typical bathing suit in the early 1900s was a one-piece tank style jumper that ended at the thigh and was tight enough to allow real movement in the water. It was not considered sexy by any means, but looked especially good on girls with boyish figures.

A little of the Middle

1930 - 1945

This is when swimwear started to look like the swimsuits we know today. The 1930s swimsuit was body hugging and made of swim friendly fabric such as latex. This suit showed a lot of skin, arms and legs were left bare. In the 1940s, the 1930s suit was cut to show some more skin, a few inches above the belly button.

The Bikini

1946 - 1947

The bikini was so revolutionary of its time that many models, even French models who were known to tryout many fashion trends, didn't want to model the bikini. The bikini showed off the naval which was a part of the body never exposed in clothing before, and something a decent girl would never show.

Structure and a step backwards

1950 - 1959

The 1950s most ideal body was a curvy one, similar to Marilyn Monroe. in order to attain this, the swimsuits of this decade introduced more structure and built in support. This one-piece had built-in corsetry, equipped with boning in the bodice to flatten the tummy, cinch in the waist, make the bust appear more supported, all providing security while in the water. Also, the suits had low legs that, while unflattering on the majority of women, provided some added modesty for sunbathing in the company of males.


1960 - 1969

The bikini: something so shocking in the 1940s became extremely popular in the 1960s. It was even common to see young girls wearing bikinis at beaches and backyard pools. These bikinis were considered modest compared to today's styles and fabric covered as much as possible. In the mid-60s is when the bikini became more revealing due to its material, lycra/spandex.

Even More Revealing

1970 - 1979

The 70s along with the loss of bras and a gain in free love, swimwear was inching up the legs of many women. The 70s bathing suit was definitely more high-cut than the 60s version, but less drastic than the 80s bathing suits, and string bikinis made their first appearance during the 70s.

A step in the Reverse Direction

1980 - 1989

The 80s was the decade that shied away from the bikini. However, the bathing suits were still revealing as they had a high leg line and a low neck line and a scooped back, revealing as much skin as possible for a one-piece.

The 90s

1990 - 1999

Just when you though bathing suits couldn't get any more skimpier, they did just that in the 90s. No longer did people worry about covering up, butt coverage was reduced and the "side-boob" was introduced. Brazilian beachwear was brought into America and so was the Brazilian bikini wax. The small covering bathing suits of this decade brought into question the difference between covering up a little area of the body versus going completely nude. To some there was no difference, and to others it made all the difference.


2000 - 2013

Today one will find all the various types of bathing suits ranging from one pieces to bikinis, to even monokinis (cut-out one pieces). They come in all different patterns and cuts and are made of different materials too, even metal and beading details