At the beginning of the 20th century, when men and women went to the beach, splashing about in the surf was called bathing rather than swimming. According to swimwear collector Pam Fierro, “Swimming didn’t come into vogue until the 1920s.” Part of the problem was that many people simply didn't know how to swim, but early-1900s bathing costumes, as they were called, were also to blame—it’s tough to do the Australian crawl when you are covered from head to toe in heavy, water-absorbing wool.

That changed in the 1920s, when it became acceptable for men and women alike to show a little bit of skin at the beach or by the pool. Sunbathing came into vogue, as did actual swimming, although logic tells us there were probably more people enjoying the former than the latter. Swimwear of that period was often paired with fashion accessories like hats and parasols, and still is today.

One company to capitalize on these two coincidences of history was Jantzen, which proclaimed the new free spirit for female swimmers with its classic diving-girl logo, which was stitched on the outside of their suit’s left thigh. Catalina put its logo, a flying fish, in the same spot. Jantzen and Catalina suits of the 1920s and ’30s, including Jantzen’s Shouldaire, were still made of wool, but there was less material to drag the swimmer down, as the arms, legs, neck, and back were now bare.

Wool suits from this period are quite collectible today, but wool was not the only material used by swimwear manufacturers. Stretch satin was also employed, and by the 1940s, when the first two-piece suits began to appear, nylon and Celanese rayon were also popular. The obvious benefit these materials had over wool was their weight, which made them more comfortable to wear and faster to dry.

By the 1950s, swimwear designers were sprinkling the outsides of their one-piece swimsuits with rhinestones and elaborate appliqué designs. Clothing and costume designer Rudi Gerhreich, who’s best know today for inventing the topless monokini in 1964, first gained acclaim in 1956 when his pink, wool, one-piece swimsuit, with buttons down the front, was featured on the cover of “Collier’s” magazine.

But the biggest news of the 1950s and ’60s was the widespread acceptance of the smallest swimsuit ever, the bikini. As usual, Hollywood paved the way for its acceptance. Ava Gardner and Lana Turner had donned two-piece suits in the 1940s, but their outfits were tame compared to the bikini worn by Bridget Bardot in the 1956 film “And God Created Woman.”

In 1960, pop singer Brian Hyland made a hit of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," and in 1962 the original “Bond girl,” Ursula Andress, wore a white bikini in the first film of that series, “Dr. No.” Still, not all women were confident enough to swim or sunbathe wearing so little, as evidenced by the Sears catalog of 1964, which promised its customers “swimsuit glamour” when wearing its latest one-piece Lycra and nylon suits.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]



Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Recent News: Womens Swimwear

Source: Google News

Flower power: Never goes wrong when it comes to fashion and prints
Free Press Journal, November 29th

The entire sequence has a quality of grandeur, sophistication and vintage charm to it. In women's wear section, Baidya roots for outfits like shift dresses, evening gowns, jumpsuits, swimwear, saris and blouses to look best in floral-leafy prints. For...Read more

Kate Spade's CMO Talks Phone-Charging Purses, Pixar, and Dressing Room Selfies
Fortune, November 28th

We still see lots of opportunity. Within women's this year we launched swimwear, we licesenced watches with Fossil, we announced atheleisure recently with Beyond Yoga and we have sleepwear coming next year. And we see several additional categories we'd...Read more

Black Friday & Cyber Monday 2015 Survival Guide—130 Places (& Counting!) to ...
E! Online, November 25th

Plus on Black Friday, spend $10,000 or more and get a Vintage Chanel bag or Louis Vuitton duffle, spend $25,000 and set sail in the Caribbean (on your own private yacht) and spend $50,000 or more and get a Vintage Hermes bag or Vintage Patek Philippe...Read more

Helmut Newton's photographs featuring young Jerry Hall go on display
Daily Mail, November 25th

A collection of iconic images taken by Helmut Newton the legendary photographer dubbed 'The King of Kink are going on display and will include famous pictures such as Swimwear (Jerry Hall spitting) taken for Vogue in 1978. Newton, who died in 2004...Read more

Uma Thurman looks like a picture perfect postcard in vintage swimsuit
Daily Mail, November 24th

She's never one to follow the crowd and has her own style when it comes to fashion both on and off the red carpet. However, as she escaped to St Barts this week for a sunshine break, it looked like Uma Thurman had turned to Edwardian and Victorian...Read more

This Lingerie Brand Now Designs Swimsuits…To Wear Everywhere
Refinery29, November 20th

Fans of Fleur du Mal will find many signature touches from its lingerie carry over to swim — playful lace-up details, mesh eyelets, and vintage-inspired silhouettes, all tied together by a retro sensibility. For the brand's first big splash (c'mon, we...Read more

Those Who Came Before: The 10 Most Important Erotica Pioneers
Papermag, November 19th

Here's my favorite tidbit about swimwear pin-up model and photographer Bunny Yeagar: In Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne's gossipy porno history text The Other Hollywood, there's an FBI agent named Bill Kelly whose kind of King Buzzkill in the book...Read more

PHOTOS: Bathing Beauties rock vintage swimwear on Galveston Island
KTRK-TV, May 17th

The Galveston Island Beach Revue, presented by Hotel Galvez & Spa, celebrating Galveston's connection to the days of bathing beauty pageants and classic summer fun hosted "Retro-Active" games for the kids, a charcoal championship cook-off, and classic ...Read more