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Swimwear History

Did you know that few items have been as revolutionary as swimwear? From full-body coverage to two pieces, one-pieces, tankinis, or crops paired with bottoms, swimsuits have been an endless reflection of creativity as well as innovation in technology as well as society.

You can take a swim in any water looking as if you've stepped off a catwalk in the perfect swimwear that fits you right, and in some cases, can go from daytime beachwear to nighttime dinner out! But do you know where it all started? Have you ever wondered about the history of swimwear?

It all starts with ancient times.

Natural

In Ancient Rome, swimming for pleasure was not common. When a person did bathe or swim, they went without any covering. On occasion, women chose to wear a bandeau-style top and brief like bottoms. Either bathing or swimming was often conducted in private homes or bathhouses.

18th Century

With the advent of the railroad system and other transportation methods, the idea of travel and vacation became more mainstream. More people were able to visit lakes, oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water where swimming and going to the beach became recreational. Manners and modesty during those times meant however that most were bathing in cumbersome clothing. Ladies, for instance, had 'swimming costumes,' often worn with long socks and even shoes. Unfortunately, these long pieces of fabric were often weighty in the water and led to dangerous situations.

Fabrics used at the time were often wool, canvas, or flannel which retained water and made the garments so heavy that most often, those who wore it did not swim but mostly waded in the water. Some of the swimwear for women even boasted weights on the hem so that they would not float up when in the water.

19th Century

Near the mid to end of the 18th century, a daring new piece of swimwear was revealed. Known as Bloomer swimsuits, with full skirts and wide legs that cinched at the ankle. Still, they were made of wool like the original swim costumes and were still entirely too unwieldy to be safe in the water compared to today's standards. These Bloomer swimsuits were controversial at the time as they were technically a pair of pants with a top, which was considered quite forward at the time.

Olympic Influence

Most swimwear remained extremely bulky until swimming became an intercollegiate and Olympic sport. It was then that many people, designers included, realized that the current swimsuits were far too heavy and bulky to acquire speed. Swimwear became more streamlined.

At first, it was a short-sleeved one-piece that came to below the knee for women, which removed much of the bulky weight long skirts and pantaloon like bottoms held.

Eventually, a swimsuit was designed for an early 20th-century swimmer by the name of Annette Kellerman. She debuted the design that closely resembled that of a man's swimsuit at the time, featuring a sleek, form-fitting shape that conformed to her body for increased competitive speed. However, it was so controversial at the time, she was arrested in Boston for wearing it. But by that act alone, Annette set into motion the idea of the one-piece as we can see it today, as it was picked up by fashion designers and other swimmers around the world. Added to this one-piece as it became popular were items such as flourishes, frills, slimmer straps, ruffles, designed pockets, and fabric patterns and colors with a fun sense of the fashion of that era.

By 1910, swimwear began to become less restrictive and heavy. Arms were often fully exposed; hemlines could creep as far as mid-thigh and less fabric was used to conceal so as not to add any heaviness to the body as it swam.

The 1920s

It was the push of fashion magazines as well as Hollywood glam in the 1920s that the demand for swimsuits as something that could be glamorous, fashionable, pretty, and comfortable would become a trending part of the fashion world for all.

The 1930s

Differing necklines began to be explored, some plunging along the back. Sleeves had disappeared and sides were tightened. With the development of new materials such as latex and nylon, swimsuits eventually evolved to hug the body with shoulder straps.

The 1940s

Wartime production during World War II required large amounts of cotton, silk, wool, leather, and rubber. In 1942 the U.S. War Production Board issued a regulation that would cut down the use of natural fibers in clothing and mandating a 10% reduction in the amount of fabric that could be used in women's swimwear.

The daring two-piece, covering a woman's navel with the usual skirt panel, or shorts-like bottoms and baring a bit of midriff became common during fabric shortages.

The most risqué bathing suit was invented roughly in 1949 and is known today as the bikini. This design featured such a significant cut of fabric that the inventor, French-designed Luis Reard had much difficulty in hiring a model that would wear his creation.

The 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s

Despite the invention of the bikini, fashion trends from the 40s, 50s, and 60s mainly followed the silhouette of the two-piece or influences from the 1930s.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, swimsuits became more and more daring and risqué in design, or more about art than comfort, or speed for Olympic swimmers. Speedo in the 1970s broke swim speed records by using a blend of nylon and suits that tightly followed the body.

The 1990s

The 90s saw swimwear picking up inspiration from the 30s and 40s two-pieces but in innovative, new ways. The tankini appeared as well as the wonderful concept of having a mix and match bottoms or tops that allowed women to choose any number of fashion combinations. The tankini also encompassed the feminine freedom of a bikini, but in the more modest coverage of a one-piece, allowing more women to feel comfortable both in swimwear and in their bodies.

From that decade onward, new patterns, styles, and fashions both inspired from the golden era of Hollywood to new, comfortable designs are being created every day, allowing women all over the world to no longer hesitate about stepping out in a gorgeous swimsuit. We at Lime Ricki are proud to be one of the leading designers of fun, bold, as well as beautiful modest swimwear that women all over the country and the world are embracing to get back to doing what they love: diving into the water with pride!