What Swimsuits Looked Like the Year You Were Born

We are obsessed with the fashionable ensembles of 1949.

Before we hit the pool or shore this season, we're taking 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 tankini.

1910s: A Lot of Material

One hundred 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.

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 is the shoes worn, designed to protect the wearer from seashells and rocks.

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.

1925: Movie Star Swimwear

The figure-hugging maillot gives women the 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 at mid-thigh. Here, movie star Fanny Brice frolics on the shore in a similar style.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

1940s: Leggy Looks

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

1949: Sleeker Silhouettes

Men ditch the tank top, though still wore trunks with higher waists than we're used to today. Meanwhile, women's swimwear sticks to the one-piece often with a skirt effect over the thigh.

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 in swimwear. Swimsuits also had a bit more structure with built-in bra cups, and fun details like belts, piping and even one-shoulder necklines.

1950s: Bold Red

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


1950s: Polka Dots

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

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.

1954: Fur Sure

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

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.

1960s: Novelty Suit

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

1960s: Structured and Strapless

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

1960s: Mad for Madras

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

1965: Pastel Patterns

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

1970s: Hip Halter

In the '70s, bikinis get smaller and less structured. This simple white suit wouldn't be out of place on a 2017 beach.

1970s: Teeny Bikinis

What to wear with your minimal bikini? Big sunglasses.

1970s: Patterns For The Family

Playful patterns make this family the most stylish at the beach. Here, we can see that men's suits haven't changed too much from the late '40s look—the higher-waist is still here, but the fabric is not as bulky at least.


1979: Earthtones

One-pieces were still worn in the decade, with asymmetrical necklines and the very '70s color palettes keeping the look stylish.

1980: Dramatic Back

But if we had to pick an era for statement suits, it would have to be the '80s. This one-piece is distinguished by bold gathered details on the back.

1980: Sporty Looks

No, tankinis didn't debut in the '90s. These midriff-baring tops were paired with high-cut or string-style bottoms.

1983: Plunging Neckline

Jamie Lee Curtis models another common look for swimwear of the '80s: Plunging necklines.

1980s: Color-Blocked

Strong colors make the familiar high-leg '80s maillot pop poolside or the beach.

1994: Cutouts

The high-cut legs of the '80s still were very much a part of '90s swimsuit fashion. Combined with cutout details, a one-piece could be just as risqué as a bikini.

1995: Buckle Up

A timelessly flattering silhouette doesn't need much to look fabulous, but a skinny belt adds an unobtrusive detail.

1998: The Tankini

Tankinis took off in the late '90s, whether it went in a high-fashion look with a squared neckline and boyshorts, or simple with a cami-style top and traditional bikini bottoms.

1999: Vintage-Inspired Suits

Proving that every look eventually comes back, these cute swimsuits nodded to the skirted styles of decades past.

1999: Boyshorts For The Win

The endlessly-comfy boyshort bikini bottom makes waves this year, especially when paired with the other trendy swimsuit style: The high-necked halter, which has also made a comeback this year.

2001: More Tankinis, Please

The tankini proves that it's not a passing trend, with more and more opting for this fuller-coverage but fun style.


2009: Sporty Chic

Perhaps inspired by the 2008 Summer Olympics, sportier one-piece styles were one of the more popular looks during the later years of the first decade of the 2000s. The one-piece continues to evolve in the 2010s, and now enjoys the distinction of surpassing the bikini in popularity!

2010s: All About Positivity

The body-positive movement gets stronger thanks to the rise of social media, bringing exciting and diverse voices to the forefront of fashion. In this decade, a "beach body" is not achieved by punishing workout and diet regimes—it's about simply putting on a bathing suit you love and enjoying your day in the sun.

From: Good Housekeeping

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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