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”)
Fashion Columbia Study Collection
1960s Fashion and Textiles
Vintage Fashion Guild
Clubs & Associations
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Womens Swimwear
Source: Google News
How to Stay Relevant, Part 2: Caymus and the WagnersWine Spectator (blog), July 2nd
In every single vintage from 1978 through 2012, a Caymus Cabernet has been awarded a score of 90-plus points on release. When I asked ... Cigars by Joe for the fellas and swimwear by Amber for the ladies (and also the fellas, actually). These aren't ...Read more
Experience Downtown Fresno's Art Hop: Featuring Evolve Vintageyourcentralvalley.com, July 2nd
Join Evolve Vintage downtown to shop for unique and vintage pieces from their collection, enjoy some good tunes and prepare for this summer season in cheeky swimwear. It's one of the most active and successful programs organized by the Fresno Arts ...Read more
From bathing to swimming: the evolution of the teeny, tiny summer bikiniLos Angeles Times, July 1st
With the help of Kevin Jones, curator of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising's Museum Collection, and author Sarah Kennedy ("Vintage Swimwear," Sterling Publishing, $34.95), we take a look at some of swimwear's more noteworthy moments ...Read more
Find that perfect fit in a swimsuitVancouver Sun, June 29th
High-waisted bottoms, halter tops and one-piece suits sporting strategic cut-outs are just a few of the options that are sure to be spotted on a beach or pool deck near you — many of which feature retro-inspired silhouettes. But these aren't your...Read more
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Announces Multi-Million Dollar RenovationCNNMoney, June 29th
Additional retail shops will highlight the space with one of the largest spaces becoming the home to the Island Company, an island style resort wear shop featuring accessories, clothing, swimwear, vintage sunglasses and more. The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Fort ...Read more
Frist Center dazzles with 'Italian Style'The Tennessean, June 27th
Among the 90 garments featured, viewers will find ball gowns, suits, overcoats, knitwear, swimwear, casual attire, shoes, accessories and more. Items worn by stars like Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Gregory Peck are on display...Read more
River Oaks District Announces Slew of New StoresHoustonia Magazine, June 24th
Other new stores on the horizon include French swimwear brand Vilebrequin, vintage-inspired California concept Planet Blue, luxury Swiss tobacco brand Davidoff of Geneva since 1911 and Houston-based luxury handbag and footwear brand St. Nicola, ...Read more
PHOTOS: Bathing Beauties rock vintage swimwear on Galveston IslandKTRK-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