See How Swimsuits Have Evolved Through the Ages
When it comes to swimwear these days, there are endless styles and options to choose from. There's the minimalist one-piece, the retro-style separates, the skimpy triangle bikini, and frankly, anything in between. But that wasn't always the case.
Back in the mid-1800s, women wore full-length, full-coverage dresses that limited any kind of swimming activity to simply wading in the water. Flash forward to post-World War I and the first-ever one-piece, or maillot, was invented, but because of its wool composition, it sagged when it was wet. And then there were the string bikinis that only the likes of Brigitte Bardot or Christie Brinkley could pull off in the '60s and '70s like the bombshells they were.
And now it's come full circle, thanks to Taylor Swift, who was in no small part responsible for bringing back the retro, 1950s-style aesthetic. Scroll through our timeline to see how swimsuits have evolved through the ages.
Cumbersome full-length dresses limited women to only wading, not swimming, in the water. To keep legs covered, skirts were weighted down with lead, and bloomers and stockings were worn underneath.
Bathing costumes lightened up—a little. The popular princess style, a one-piece with a knee-length skirt and stockings, emerged. Police patrolled the shores, stopping women who showed too much calf.
After World War I, the one-piece, or maillot, arrived. These were not the close-fitting numbers we wear today, but romper-style suits in dark ribbed wool that covered part of the thigh and sagged unattractively when wet.
World War II rationing and the idolization of the hourglass figure lead to sleeker styles—like Ava Gardner's chic polka-dot two-piece, made voluptuous with new stretch fabrics, built-in brassieres, and stomach panels.
Though "invented" in 1946, the navel-baring bikini didn't become mainstream until the mid-'60s, accompanied by softer, skimpier tops with skinnier straps. No one nailed this look better than Brigitte Bardot.
Fashion's fixation with the extremely slender gave way to more athletic, fuller-breasted bodies. Sporty styles came into vogue, epitomized by the red one-pieces worn by the Baywatch cast at the end of the decade.
Swimwear fashion split into two camps in this designer-obsessed decade: the ostentatiously glamorous, heavy on gold satin and logos, and the minimalist, seen in the clean lines of Naomi Campbell's Hermès suit.
Sporty triangle tops and hipster bottoms showcased Gisele-esque physiques, while the rise of mix-and-match options allowed women to individualize their looks.
Ladylike elegance returns to the beach, with 1950s-era silhouettes, favored by trendsetters like Taylor Swift, making an unexpected comeback alongside more modern styles, featuring ruffled or scallopped necklines.