The Evolution of Swimsuits Through the Years

Styles from the '20s involved a lot of fabric.

retro swimsuits
Getty Images

Before you hit the pool or shore this summer, take a look back at how the swimsuit has evolved through the years. From wool shorts to corsets, this might be what you need to appreciate your faithful one-piece or bikini. Starting in the 1910s and ending with the latest (retro-inspired!) looks in 2022, you can see just how much the swimsuit has evolved over the past 100 years.

photograph, people, crowd, photography, sand, history,
Getty Images
1 of 50
1910s: A Lot of Material

Over 100 years ago, swimsuits were practically unrecognizable to the modern eye. Bloomers, skirts, sleeves and stockings are the look for women. Though it is a lot to wear, know this: These garments are actually more body-conscious than those worn in previous years.

white, umbrella, beauty, retro style, fashion, leg, monochrome, photography, footwear,
BettmannGetty Images
2 of 50
1920s: Body-Conscious Silhouettes

We start to see the modern one-piece silhouette come into play, with a more streamlined look and a dash of whimsy (like the striped detail). One thing that's still a holdover of older swimwear trends are the shoes worn, designed to protect the wearer from seashells and rocks.

photograph, standing, snapshot, interaction, gesture, photography, monochrome photography, stock photography, vintage clothing,
BettmannGetty Images
3 of 50
1921: A Scandalous Look

Hems are getting higher, which is liberating for bathers ... and something that the police apparently needed to get involved in. Welcome to the age of bathing suit laws, where one must be measured before being legally allowed to enjoy the day.

photograph, standing, shoulder, beauty, leg, footwear, joint, photography, monochrome,
ImagnoGetty Images
4 of 50
1925: Movie-Star Swimwear

The figure-hugging maillot gives women new freedom to move around, thanks to the new styles made popular by the new company Jantzen. The top portion is designed much like a tank, with the bottom ending mid-thigh. Here, movie star Fanny Brice frolics on the shore in a similar style.

fun, photograph, wave, vacation, water, sea, ocean, summer, wind wave, photography,
H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images
5 of 50
1930s: The New Look

Hello, legs! The leg is cut even higher in the 1930s, while stylistic trends (like bows and collars) expand swimwear choices. Men's suits are also cut with a high leg, with a tank top resembling a running or wrestling singlet.

photograph, white, leg, beauty, sitting, snapshot, retro style, photography, footwear,
H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images
6 of 50
1930s: Sunny Accessories

Of course, the rise of modern swimwear coincides with the rise of modern accessories. Here, sunglasses and cute sandals complete the ensemble for one Florida trendsetter.

clothing, retro style, beauty, shoulder, leg, standing, fashion, photo shoot,
Hulton ArchiveGetty Images
7 of 50
1936: High-End Materials

In this era of swimwear, new synthetic fabrics and wool were common. However, very high-end swimsuits (like this one worn by film star Ida Lupino) could be found that used touches of silk. Perhaps these were for posing only?

betty grable
Getty Images
8 of 50
1937: Sailor Style

Betty Grable shows off her anchor one-piece. Sailor-inspired and patriotic clothing was popular in the late '30s, largely due to the approaching second World War.

white, photograph, leg, beauty, snapshot, standing, fashion, monochrome, human leg,
BettmannGetty Images
9 of 50
1938: Sporty Swimsuit

Unlike Ida's silk swimwear, some women demanded designs that were functional yet pretty. Such was the case for bodybuilder Relna Brewer, who modeled a halter bikini while ripping a phone book in half.

swimsuit
BettmannGetty Images
10 of 50
1940s: High Waists and Halters

Though the skimpy bikini as we know it wouldn't be introduced until 1946, some midriff-bearing designs could be seen on the market prior to that watershed moment. This simple halter and high-waisted combo was just one of those designs.

photograph, white, people, snapshot, fun, standing, photography, water, monochrome,
H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images
11 of 50
1940s: Leggy Looks

But not everyone was into the two-piece. These darling one-pieces were simple, but definitely not plain.

lucille ball
Getty Images
12 of 50
1943: Strapless Tops

Seen here on Lucille Ball, the strapless looks of the '40s often included either straight-across and sweetheart necklines. Either way, no tan lines!

retro women on beach
Constance Bannister CorpGetty Images
13 of 50
1946: Pops of Color & Patterns

With high waisted bottoms and coordinating tops, these women were only wrong about one thing: using tanning oil instead of sunscreen.

barechested, vacation, fun, summer, honeymoon, people on beach, muscle, tourism, shorts, travel,
Archive PhotosGetty Images
14 of 50
1949: Sleeker Silhouettes

Men ditched the tank top, but still wore trunks with higher waists than we're used to today in the late '40s. Meanwhile, women stuck to the one-piece, often with a skirt effect over the thigh.

people on beach, fun, vacation, sky, beauty, friendship, beach, summer, bikini, sea,
LambertGetty Images
15 of 50
1949: The Latest Trends

Here, you can see that "skirted" trend (really, just a longer panel in the front that created the illusion of a skirt) in this group of women happily modeling the latest looks. Swimsuits also had a bit more structure with built-in bra cups, and fun details like belts, piping and even one-shoulder necklines.

red, leg, sportswear, ball, gymnastics, photography, vacation, recreation, thigh, balance,
Dennis HallinanGetty Images
16 of 50
1950s: Bold Red

Ruching and a sweetheart neckline make for a very '50s look that's still being replicated today.

clothing, bikini, swimwear, model, beauty, lingerie, swimsuit bottom, photo shoot, swimsuit top,
H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images
17 of 50
1950s: Polka Dots

Not-so-bare two-pieces saw a rise in popularity, with bottoms that generally hovered around the belly button.

photograph, social group, standing, swimwear, fun, leg, team, photography, retro style, vintage clothing,
Keystone-FranceGetty Images
18 of 50
1953: Fashion Show

The 1950s were also a fanciful time for swimsuit design, as seen in this French fashion show. Oui, there is a bikini or two in the mix, but also a heavily corseted swimsuit with a star-spangled skirt.

photograph, standing, monochrome, snapshot, retro style, street, fashion, leg, photography,
BettmannGetty Images
19 of 50
1954: Fur Sure

Fashion also went in an unwearable direction, with swimsuits made entirely of fur.

photograph, photo shoot, beauty, model, sea, monochrome photography, photography, water, leg,
BettmannGetty Images
20 of 50
1950s: Metallic Mermaid

Metallic lamé fabrics brought glamour to swimwear in this era. This very fabulous mermaid-inspired suit (the cups are shells!) was made out of the glittering material.

elizabeth taylor
Getty Images
21 of 50
1959: Elizabeth Taylor-Inspired

After the premiere of Suddenly Last Summer, everyone looked for a swimsuit that would make them feel like Elizabeth Taylor. Any white one-piece would do!

clothing, leg, bikini, human leg, beauty, thigh, fashion, swimwear, eyewear, waist,
BettmannGetty Images
22 of 50
1960s: Novelty Suit

Covered in faux flowers, this bikini gives new meaning to the term "bloomers."

bikini, vacation, undergarment, lingerie, swimwear, photography, tourism,
LambertGetty Images
23 of 50
1960s: Structured and Strapless

The structured silhouettes of the '50s crept into the early '60s, with supportive strapless bras and high-waisted bottoms.

photograph, sun tanning, leisure, fun, vacation, summer, sitting, leg, bikini, swimming pool,
American Stock/ClassicStockGetty Images
24 of 50
1960s: Mad for Madras

The pattern was a favorite of '60s suburbia, so it was a natural choice for suburban sunbathers.

blue hawaii
Getty Images
25 of 50
1961: Geometric Patterns

After Elvis Presley and Joan Blackman's Blue Hawaii debuted, shapes became a big part of swimsuit style. Triangles, diamonds, and other sharp lines in bright colors were often found in stores.

sports illustrated
Sports Illustrated
26 of 50
1964: All About Simplicity

When Sports Illustrated launched its first swimsuit edition in 1964, everyone wanted to look like model Babette March. She proved that sometimes less is more, sporting a timeless plain white bikini.

clothing, gravure idol, leg, beauty, human leg, japanese idol, thigh, sitting, summer, bikini,
Silver Screen CollectionGetty Images
27 of 50
1965: Pastel Patterns

Natalie Wood models an on-trend Y-neck halter, done in the fun pastels of the era.

surfer girl
Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Images
28 of 50
1967: Surfin' USA

The surfing trend took off in the 1960s, so it's not surprising to see this surfer girl posing with her board in a classic geometric print two-piece.

beauty, grass family, summer, photography, brown hair, photo shoot, long hair, model, bikini, plant,
H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images
29 of 50
1970s: Hip Halter

In the '70s, bikinis got smaller and less structured. This simple white suit wouldn't be out of place on a 2022 beach either

clothing, bikini, beauty, human leg, leg, photo shoot, undergarment, model, summer, thigh,
H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images
30 of 50
1970s: Teeny Bikinis

What to wear with your minimal bikini? Big sunglasses.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
More From Fashion