Vintage Swimwear Fashion Guide

Women’s Vintage Swimwear Secrets

Before you go shopping for some cool Vintage swimwear or Retro Swimwear, why not sit back
and learn a bit about what you’re wearing!

Photo courtesy My Vintage Vogue

Perhaps more than any other garment, the swimsuit has changed beyond all recognition in the last century.
One of the most appealing aspects of early 20th century women’s swimwear fashion,
was the gradual uncovering of her body again after the stuffy and repressed days of the Victorian era.
In those days, women were expected to wear even more clothing when they went to the beach!

The Edwardian years saw a gradual change in attitudes, thanks in part
to the French women in post first world war Deauville and Biarritz , and to the growing influence of the USA in women’s liberation.
Liberation of her knees that is  –  the pursuit of equal rights is still on the agenda in 2010 .

1910’s Swimwear

Knitted swimwear was the first big change. very naughty at the time by all counts, those early
images of daring women are priceless.Caps were usually made of uncomfortable rubberized
fabric, which discouraged many women from going for anything more than a paddle.

1920’s Swimwear

Looking at the timeline of Vintage Swimwear design, some major companies come to mind – in particular the famous Jantzen Swimsuit.

Founded in Portland in 1910,
The Jantzen Knitting Mill coined the term swimsuit, instead of bathing costume.
Jantzens infamous red diving girl logo came to epitomise the 1920’s flappers new found freedom.
Hollywood played their part and Max Sennetts Bathing Belles began to adorn magazine advertising all over America.

The popular one piece swimwear design for the 1920’s resembled the minidress of the 1960’s, and even employed the use of tights!
Bathing caps were now made from stretch latex rubber , and were beginning to become a fashion accessory.

1930’s Swimwear

Photo – Jantzen Archive Blog
A few designers stand out in this decade.

Elsa Schiaparelli

She adapted the more traditional tank top Mailott or One piece Swimsuit
and designed the first backless swimsuit to allow a woman to get a more even
tan to show off in her evening dress.

Lucien Lelong designed the hugely popular one piece jersey belted swimsuits, shown below
by Vogue photographer George Hoyningen-Huene

As the 1930’s progressed, womens swimsuits had grown a lot shorter.

In 1935 Claire McCardell, the creator of the American Look,
took a pair of scissors to this and created the first two piece, which was
the forerunner of the Bikini.

1940’s Swimwear

Skirted suits and bathing caps were all the rage in the 1940’s .

Photo Life Archive

The Invention of the Bikini

Louis Réard unveiled his Bikini in 1946, though two piece swimwear had been around
for a good decade by now. He could not find anyone who was willing to wear this stringy
skimpy excuse for a swimsuit and subsequently hired model Micheline Bernardini – pictured below
to pose.

It caused a sensation, and still finds its way into the average womans swimming attire to this day.
For the record Reard claimed that you do not have a ‘ genuine’ bikini unless you can pull it
through your wedding ring!

1950’s Swimwear

Truly the decade of Swimwear glamour !

Photo –My Vintage Vogue

Rose Marie Reidswimwear from the mid 1950’s

Photo – My Vintage Vogue

Cannes Film Festival became the glamour capital for a while with the likes of
Brigitte Bardot and Diana Dors turning up in Bikinis.

Most women however stuck with the one piece swimwear.
The forerunner of today’s Miraclesuit Swimwear was the Corset swimsuit
which became popular for women not blessed with a perfectly toned body.
Faced with a drop in sales, traditional corsetry manufacturers branched out.
Soon, tummy panels and boning with bra cups began to creep into designs.
Apron designs were popular and skirted two piece outfits also.
For a gorgeous range of vintage style swimwear do check out What Katie Did.

Vintage Swimwear Sizing Tips

Before you go shopping, here’s a few pointers for

Wide Hips – One piece skirted suits or Apron suits

Thick waist – Single color one piece swimsuit – avoid floral designs.

Big Tummy – The Miracle-suit is ideal, either way look for swimwear with tummy support.

If you don’t suffer from these ‘ normal’ body shapes, then – lucky you!

We’ll leave off with a charming fashion film from the late 1940’s featuring some of the
latest 1940’s swimwear design.
Time to throw off the clothes and expose that pale skin girls.

copyright Glamourdaze2010.

Some photos courtesy Life Magazine archive

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13 thoughts on “Vintage Swimwear Fashion Guide”

  1. I love Victorian swimwear~ <3

    They are so rare to find these days ^_^"

    I also adore 20s and 50s swimsuits which are also cute.
    I hate modern swimwear. Its almost like being nude except all thats covered up is whats illegal to show. Its a good thing you posted this because I LOVE the swimwear looks of the yesteryear :3

  2. What a wonderful page, such gorgeous photos. I'd love a 20s swimsuit, but it would be impossible to wear it in case it got ruined!

  3. I am looking out for a vintage style swimsuit so i cam look glamourous on my holidays (well, the plan is to look glam; how it will end up I'm not sure!); a very useful post, thank you! x

  4. Mai oui!

    I love your site – so informative.
    I have 3 vintage one piece suits – one with birds of paradise fabric.
    With red toenails and a swimcap…
    If only waterproof makeup was still made.
    Thank you for a wonderful read.

  5. I adore vintage swimsuits – I especially love the looks of the ones from the 20s, 40s, and 50s. I think swimsuits look a lot more sophisticated than bikinis (:

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