The swimsuit begins its history in ancient Greece and Rome. In these ancient civilizations, public bathing was a common and popular tradition. While women in ancient Greece bathed largely in the nude, women in ancient Roman wore swimsuits that bore striking resemblance to modern day bikinis. Despite the fact that it would not be until 1946 when the official, modern bikini was designed and introduced to the fashion world, the basic two-piece swimsuit concept has been in existence for quite some time.
By the fall of the Roman Empire, public bathing and the accompanying swimwear fell out of style for several hundred years. During the Middle Ages in Europe, men and women rarely bathed; public bathing was viewed as not only immoral but also unhealthy. However, swimsuits would be reintroduced into society in the 18th and 19th century as spas and seaside resorts sprouted up all over the European coast. Entrenched in the conservative Victorian era, swimsuits of this time period exposed very little skin and were much more akin to dresses and corsets than the modern conception of the swimsuit. They were also constructed of heavy wool so as to prevent any undesirable sheerness when wet.
The more modern history of the swimsuit begins at the beginning of the 20th century. Swimsuit fashion passed to the United States, and heavy woolen dresses were abandoned for more functional swimsuit attire. In the early decades of the 20th century, swimsuits gradually became tighter fitting as designers experienced with knitted jersey materials. Swimsuits for men and women were quite similar in their appearance, generally consisting of a tank style top and shorts, bathing socks, and the required bathing hat for women.
The 1920s would prove be a liberating decade for swimsuit designers, as they experienced with new fabrics and cuts to make swimsuits shorter, tighter, and flirtier. The prototype of the 1920s swimsuit consisted of a short, dress-style skirt with a lower neckline and bare shoulders. In future decades, until the introduction of the bikini in 1946, this style of maillot would be further shortened and tightened to progressively reveal more and more skin.
In 1946, the shocking introduction of the bikini threw the swimsuit fashion world into a new generation of swimsuit design. The original bikinis were quite modest and offered full coverage, but by 1955, bikinis and maillots would come with bandeau-style, strapless tops. The most intriguing aspect of swimsuit history in the 1950s was the introduction of animal-print swimsuits. Designers briefly experimented with a variety of actual animal furs in swimsuit construction but soon found fur to be somewhat inappropriate for actual swimming.
From the 1960s to today, swimsuit designers have increasingly produced more exotic and shocking cuts and fits for their swimsuits. From the topless monokini of 1964 to the scanty thong bikinis of today, swimsuits have continued upon their path of increased public exposure. While modern swimsuits do still offer minimal coverage, the sky is the limit as to how future swimsuit designers will add to the history of the swimsuit by cutting away from swimsuit fabric.
. A History of the Swimsuit .
. The Surprising History of the Bikini .
. Interesting Facts about the Swimsuit .
. How to Make Your Own Swimsuit .