The Most Memorable Swimsuits Ever
The It Girl of the 1930s, Jean Harlow was known for her platinum hair and bombshell figure. She showed off her curvy body in this iconic publicity still where she posed poolside in fabulous heels and scandalously slipping straps.
As pretty as a mermaid, Esther Williams starred in a series of synchronized swimming movies, dubbed "aquamusicals," in the 1940s and 1950s such as Bathing Beauty and Neptune's Daughter. For the films, she always donned a signature, glamorous one-piece swimsuit (like this one from a 1950 publicity still). Though she passed away in 2013, the actress' iconic style lives on in the Esther Williams swimwear line. The collection is filled with vintage style one- and two-piece bathing suits that capture the splashy elegance of our favorite water nymph.
The Girl In The Bikini, 1952
Four years before her performance in And God Created Woman established Brigitte Bardot as an international sex symbol, she was made a stir as The Girl in the Bikini. And it's easy to see why: The pale two-piece she wore in the 1952 film was simple, yet sensational.
From Here to Eternity, 1953
"I don't think anyone knew I could act until I put on a bathing suit," Deborah Kerr once said, referring to her star-making turn as an adulterous wife in 1953's From Here To Eternity. But what a bathing suit it was! Sexy, yet structured, with a wide, waist-cinching belt, it was just the thing for a wave-splashed romp in the sand with co-star Burt Lancaster.
The French Line, 1954
In this silly, glitzy musical, silver screen icon Jane Russell plays a millionairess with an oil empire who is looking for love. Since men are intimidated by her immense wealth, she swaps places with a French model to look for love. Her serious curves were highlighted in a showgirl-worthy bedazzled costumes, so skimpy that the Catholic National Legion of Decency condemned the film and called for a boycott. Adding to the controversy was the film's medium: 3D, which allowed Russell's generous bosom to pop out of the screen at viewers. Producer Howard Hughes proudly thought up the film's tagline: "J. R. in 3D. It'll knock both your eyes out!"
Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959
Yes, the plot was rather melodramatic. But the pure white tank that Elizabeth Taylor wore in 1959's Suddenly, Last Summer—in which she played a mental patient disturbed after witnessing her cousin's shocking death—was nothing short of perfection.
Sue Lyon boldly took on the iconic role of Lolita for Stanely Kubrick's version of the infamous Nabokov novel, which earned her a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. In one of the more provocative scenes, the soda pop-drinking teen flirted with middle-aged Humbert Humbert in a scandalous two-piece.
The first-ever Bond girl, in 1962's Dr. No, set the bar pretty high. (Indeed, this was our Editor-at-Large Hal Rubenstein's pick for Most Iconic Suit.) "As Honey Rider," he said, "Ursula Andress stepped out of the Caribbean and into the fantasies of every guy longing to be James Bond. The matching knife belt was a cute touch."
Former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello was the original Disney star. And, just like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, she rebelled against her squeaky-clean image as she made the transition from girl to woman. Walt himself reportedly asked her not to wear navel-baring swimsuits when she signed on to shoot Beach Party in 1963. But Funicello, then twenty years old, nevertheless dared to don this (still pretty innocent) number.
The teenage surfer character of Gidget first appeared in a series of much-beloved novels, which made room for three much-beloved films: 1959's Gidget, 1961's Gidget Goes Hawaiian, and 1963's Gidget Goes to Rome. But it wasn't until apple-pie sweet Sally Field played Gidget that we really fell in love! Field got her start on the 1965 television show playing the titular boy-crazy beach bunny and ushered in an era of flip-dos and playful, bright bikinis.
One Million Years B.C., 1966
"If women in prehistoric times really looked and dressed like this," Rubenstein said of the animal-skin two-piece Raquel Welch wore in 1966's One Million Years B.C, "a lot more people today would be studying cave paintings. As fabulous as it is ludicrous, it may be film's most famous bathing suit that never got wet."
In 1973's Coffy, Pam Grier played a nurse-turned-vigilante (or, as the film's poster would have it, a "one-chick hit squad") but she looks pretty sweet in this super-'70s macramé triangle top.
To promote her instant celebrity in Charlie's Angels, a Cleveland poster company arranged to shoot Fawcett in a bikini at her house in 1976. As Rubenstein explained, "She wasn't comfortable so exposed, so she pulled this red one-piece from her closet. The company hated the pic, but Farrah had final approval (and retained photo rights). Smart girl: The poster sold over 12 million copies and is still for sale today."
"Her perfect score has never been beaten," Rubenstein said of Bo Derek's appearance in a nude maillot in the 1979 movie 10. "She may have been the best thing to happen to sales of the one-piece," he added.
The Blue Lagoon, 1980
Brooke Shields gained icon status as Emmeline Lestrange, one of two children marooned on a dessert island, in 1980's controversial coming of age hit The Blue Lagoon. The then 14-year-old Shields (who used body doubles for the nude scenes) became the poster girl for natural beauty with her primitive bathing suits, tanned skin, and wildly natural hair.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982
In 1982's Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Phoebe Cates plays a sophisticated teenager with, as Rubenstein said, "a skimpy bikini as red as her lipstick." The scene in which she emerges in slow motion from a friend's backyard pool is still a classic.
Return of the Jedi, 1983
After being captured by Jabba the Hutt in 1983's Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia was forced to wear this bikini Rubenstein described as 'swirling gold and chain link bondage gear.' The over-the-top getup made actress Carrie Fisher a sex symbol, and copies of the so-called 'slave girl costume' are still sold online today.
As Rubenstein pointed out, Pamela Anderson wasn't even in the original cast of the syndicated 90s series Baywatch. But she certainly looked good in her "sky-high-cut" red suit. "Who can imagine 'Babewatch' without her?" Rubenstein asked.
Salma Hayek Pinault
From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996
Salma Hayek Pinault played the evocatively named exotic dancer Satanico Pandemonium in 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn, one of her first English-language films. And she looked damned good in her burgundy bikini--which she accessorized with a feathered headdress and a big yellow snake--even if she did turn out to be a bloodthirsty vampire.
The 1998 erotic thriller was mostly forgettable, aside from a serious seductive Denise Richard's figure-hugging swimsuits. In an intense pool scene, not even Neve Campbell could resist her charms.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999
Everything Gwyneth Paltrow wore in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley was divine; this colorful, fifties-style two piece is a particularly chic choice for tanning on the Italian coast with the young Jude Law.
The Beach, 2000
Leonardo DiCaprio followed up his starring role in the mega-hit Titanic with this small adventure film based on a 1996 novel of the same name. In it, DiCaprio is captivated by fellow traveler Françoise, played by newcomer Ledoyen. The pair fall in passionate love, thanks in no small part to her tiny blue bikini, and consumate their relationship swimming among a glittering hub of bioluminescent plankton.
Elizabeth Hurley starred in the 2000 remake of the 1967 film Bedazzled which is a comedic retelling of the classic Faust deal-with-the-devil legend. Hurley embraced her diabolical role and donned a (literally) bedazzled red bikini that we'd sell our souls for.
Kirsten Dunst and Mila Kunis
Get Over It, 2001
The 2001 teen romp, loosely based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, featured a bevvy of our favorite actors before they hit it big including Zoe Saldana, Colin Hanks, Shane West, and Ben Foster. Of course, our favorites were Kirsten Dunst and Mila Kunis who stole the show (and teenage boys' hearts) in colorful bikinis.
Opposite of Sex, 1998
Ricci's black bikini, a harsh contrast to her pale skin and blonde hair, so embodied the seductive character of Dedee Truitt in Opposite of Sex that the image of her lounging in it became the poster for the film.
Die Another Day, 2002
For 2002's Die Another Day, Oscar winner Halle Berry paid homage to the first Bond girl, Ursula Andress. She made her entrance in an unforgettable orange-red bikini, complete with a knife belt, "and killed," Rubenstein said, "both literally and figuratively."
Blue Crush, 2002
Kate Bosworth was basically unknown when she was picked to star as the hard-core surfer girl at the center of 2002's Blue Crush. Her mis-matched suit—like the muscular frame it displayed—was both sexy and functional.
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, 2003
Her role in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, in which she played a devious ex-Angel, amounted to something of a comeback for Demi Moore. (She'd made only one film in the previous six years, and had been spending most of her time on her Idaho ranch.) But the then-41-year-old star proved she still had it when she appeared looking unbelievably toned--and improbably ageless--in this tiny, triangle-top bikini.
Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle, 2003
In the all-star sequel to 2000's Charlie's Angels, cool girl Cameron Diaz stood out in a modern day Aphrodite-emerging-from-the-sea moment wearing a white bikini and holding a surf board.
Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, 2003
She spent most of 2001's Tomb Raider (and the 2003 follow-up, The Cradle of Life) in a black tank top and short shorts, but when Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft changed into this sexy two-piece, the fanboys in the theater fell even deeper in love.
The Notebook, 2004
In this iconic scene, Rachel McAdams plays in the crashing waves, chasing seagulls and wearing a gorgeous and graphic two-piece, while Ryan Gosling watches from the shore. We never fail to swoon as she leaps into his arms and he tells her, "If you're a bird, I'm a bird."
The Dukes of Hazzard, 2005
Jessica Simpson seemed an inspired choice to play the iconic country girl Daisy Duke in 2005's big-screen version of The Dukes of Hazzard: She already had the accent, and she certainly filled out the namesake short-shorts. But it was this straight-from-the-set shot of the star in a skimpy string bikini that made the biggest impression on her fans.
Into The Blue, 2005
"Nobody remembers the film," Rubenstein said of 2005's Into the Blue. "It had something to do with sunken treasure, drugs, bad guys, and a water park called 'Atlantis'. But when this promo picture of Jessica Alba wearing an un-matched two-piece was released, plenty of people took notice. No doubt bikini separates gained in popularity."
The Oscar winning film was a series of gorgeous style moments (that green dress!), but our favorite personal favorite costume was the delicate white bathing suit and matching swim cap that nymph-like Keira Knightley wore.