Fashion is in constant evolution with styles and trends changing as quickly as the seasons. This is also true of swimwear. Swimwear’s greatest influence has historically been based on the beliefs of society on modesty and sexuality. The swimwear we know today has really changed very little since its first appearance in the 1940’s. Instead, designers have relied on colors and prints, embellishments, and unique cuts to make a collection fresh and new each year.
The earliest form of the female bathing suit was a bathing dress worn in the early 1800’s. These reserved full-coverage dresses were made of material that had weights sewn into the hems to keep the dress from rising up in the water. The men’s bathing suit at this time was a wool garment with long sleeves and legs similar to long underwear. Can you imagine how hot these would have been? Certainly these ensembles would not have worked in the Florida Keys.
At one time, swimwear also included stockings, paddle gloves, and emergency flags to alert others when in danger. It wasn’t until swimming became popularized as a sport by the Olympic Games that swimming attire became streamlined to provide greater movement. And thankfully, Speedo introduced the first non-wool bathing suit in the 1920’s.
The arrival of the bikini was popularized by the style icons that wore them. Betty Grable glamorized the pin-up style, Marilyn Monroe showed how curves can be supported in a structured silhouette, Farrah Fawcett is famous for wearing a rust colored one-piece donning a fabulous smile and California style, and who could forget the leggy lifeguards on Baywatch.
Today, the estimated revenue of the swimwear industry is $17.6 billion, according to the research firm Global Industry Analysts. One look at the entourage in Miami for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Swim a few weeks ago would prove this number accurate. Celebrating their 10th Anniversary of Swim Week Miami, swimwear, cruise and resort collections were strutted down the catwalk for buyers, press, and industry insiders. Designers included Poko Pano, Frankie’s Bikinis, Clover Canyon, Wildfox Swim, Beach Bunny, L Space, Caffe Swimwear, Luli Fama, and Mara Hoffman. My favorite was the show by designer Dolores Cortes. Her flattering silhouettes offered stand out cutouts, and animal prints paired with soft florals. Bold gold accessories adorned each suit. The real showstopper was the brown leather one-piece with tortoise shell accents. Yes, leather! Each of the models donned elevated ponytails which were constructed with wire allowing their hair to bounce with each step.
Whether you prefer a one-piece or a string bikini or swim trunks or a tiny Speedo, your choice has been influenced by the history that influenced swimwear styles of today. Thankfully, the evolution of style for swimwear has made the bathing suit both functional and fabulous for the modern man and woman.