A History of 20th Century Swimwear – Part II

This week we continue our exploration of women’s swimwear. In this second part, we will look at swimwear from the 1960s until the 1980s. The body cult that started in the 1930s did not wane. Nevertheless, the 1960s marked a huge change in society and thus in fashion.

Actress Claudie Lange in Fellini's 1965 Film "Juliet of The Spirits". Published in Life magazine, August 27, 1965 - Vol. 59, No. 9. CC BY-NC.

Last week, we ended with the 1950s. A period that was all about curves. This look continued into the early years of the next decade with curve-enhancing two-pieces, boy shorts and tops that enhanced the bosom.

However, the revolutionary 1960s turned society, and consequently fashion, upside down. This was best seen in swimwear near the end of the decade when the bikini became the norm. Bikini shorts hit the thighs and the top became small and less constructed. One-pieces with cut-outs made their appearance too.

The 1960s had started off with the mature curvy woman as the ideal of femininity and ended with the sharper edgier young female, symbolised by models like Twiggy. An ideal that has not changed much ever since.

europeana fashion emilio pucci archive pearl bikini 1970s

Bikini made out of pearls by Emilio Pucci, 1972. Collection Fondazione Archivio Emilio Pucci. All rights reserved.

The young and edgy trend continued into the 1970s. Bikinis became mere strips of fabrics covering a body that was toned, tanned and ready for maximum exposure. The daring even started to take their bikini top off. Colours were bright and shiny, fabrics were tight. The body underwent an exercise regime of dance and fitness.

The trend for exercise did not diminish in the 1980s, it turned into a fitness craze. The 1980s body was muscled, ready for action and adventure. The high-cut bottom entered the scene, exposing the hipbone. Swimwear became an artificial skin that served to enhance the sculpture-like qualities of the body.

europeana fashion 1980s swimwear cole

1987 advertisment for Cole swimsuits. All rights reserved.

After the 1980s, the trend for more exposure continued. The 1990s saw the string bikini becoming omnipresent. The daring few even donned a thong, previously only worn by erotic dancers.

Overall, swimwear in the 20th century grew more and more bare. The female body went from being completely covered to nearly completely exposed as women started suntanning and swimming. Along with it grew a culture that put a heavy emphasis on maintaining a fit body.

Discover more swimwear in Europeana Fashion.


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