THE HISTORY OF SWIMWEAR: VOL 2

What does swimwear say about us? Throughout history the answer to that question has widely varied.

Reflecting not only fashion tastes but also the social and political positioning of women, the simple swimsuit comes with a complex narrative. 

In the second part of our series, we take a look at the swimsuit’s evolution over the last one hundred years, from its arrival in Hollywood and the scandalous boom of the bikini to contemporary shapes. 

  

Fashion appeal 

Up until the 20th Century, swimwear had been mainly reserved for the purpose of swimming. However, in the late 1920’s it was catapulted into the high fashion realm as designers such as Lanvin, Schiaparelli and Poiret began creating bathing suits to sell in their boutiques in the glamorous resort of Cannes. Featured in the pages of glossy magazines these luxury swimsuits spoke to a shift in lifestyle; the rise of industrialisation and developments in women’s rights gave women more freedom to enjoy sports and leisure time. A forerunner of her time, Coco Chanel has been credited with bringing swimwear into modern fashion. Her woven bouclé one-pieces had her signature unisex design aesthetic. However it was influential sportswear designer Jean Patou who shaped contemporary swimwear, his simple knitted pieces evoked the ease, comfort and liberation of the period. 

A model wearing a Jean Patou swimsuit, 1928

 

Backless boom 

As the twenties moved into the thirties a new movement for health and fitness took hold. Considered to be a socially acceptable sport for women, swimming was encouraged as a way to keep in shape. It also provided an opportunity for tanning, which was no longer associated with the working class but rather a marker of affluence as it suggested holidaying in sunny climates. Tanned skin became so fashionable that in 1932, Elsa Schiaparelli designed a backless swimsuit with a built-in bra which allowed line-free tanning. Straps on swimwear also become thinner to let women catch the sun on their shoulders. 

Backless swimsuits, 1934

 

The New Look 

When Christian Dior launched his New Look in 1947 the fashion landscape was drastically altered. After years of wartime austerity and military-influenced uniforms dominating, Dior’s ultra-feminine look ushered in a new era of opulence. Cinched waists and full skirts accentuated an hourglass female form. This silhouette also became popular in swimwear.

A feminine swimwear silhouette, 1948

 

Bikini bombshell 

In the late 1940’s swimwear was changed forever when Louis Réard created a skimpy two-piece he called the bikini. Named after the recent nuclear tests on the Bikini Atoll island, Réard believed the design would cause just as much shock and uproar. He was proved right. In fact, so scandalous was his bikini that no model would agree to wear it for the official launch at the Piscine Molitor fashion show in Paris. Instead french dancer Micheline Bernardini was picked to showcase it. Although the bikini grew in popularity it continued to cause a stir. Following the first Miss Universe pageant in London in 1951, it was banned from beauty pageants for being too revealing. Italy also banned the two-piece.

Micheline Bernardini modelling the bikini at the Piscine Molitor in Paris, 1946

 

Hollywood stars

As the film industry boomed in the 1950’s, so did swimwear. Screen sirens such as Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth popularised the bikini, positioning it as a beach staple. However it was Brigitte Bardot who thrust it into mainstream media when she appeared in the 1952 French film ‘Manina, The Girl in the Bikini’ wearing a strapless two-piece. As the decade progressed, fashion trends became increasingly liberated and the bikini began to be considered as an everyday piece. When Bardot wore a bikini on the beach at Cannes Film Festival in 1957, she cemented the two-piece as the must-have item of swimwear. 

Brigitte Bardot at Cannes Film Festival, 1957

 

The big reveal 

Once the bikini took hold, swimsuits continued to get smaller and smaller throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The invention of Lycra in 1958 meant styles were more tight fitting than ever and low-rise bikini bottoms became popular. Big name designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein were selling ready-to-wear swimwear. In 1964 Sports Illustrated launched its debut Swimsuit Issue. The same year, dancer-turned-designer Rudi Gernreich introduced the first topless swimsuit called the monokini. The piece comprised high-waist bottoms with a halter strap and was designed as a protest against female repression. Causing controversy around the globe, it became a symbol of the sexual revolution. 

Rudi Gernreich's monokini worn by model and actor Peggy Moffitt, 1964

 

Thigh high

The swimsuits of the eighties and nineties can be described in two words: high cut. As fashion trends steered towards a bold, powerful look and workout culture took hold, swimsuits were designed to showcase tanned, toned bodies. The hit television show 'Baywatch' popularised one-pieces which featured low, scoop neckline and ultra high-cut legs. Having already swept the beaches of Brazil, the thong swimsuit became de rigueur in the US.

A fashion feature in Women's Wear Daily, 1987

 

Sustainable swim 

One-piece, bikini, barely-there, modest: in today’s world any and every form of swimwear goes. As inclusivity and diversity inform the fashion industry, the emphasis has been put firmly on swimsuits that make the individual feel their very best. But while silhouettes are varied, what they’re made from is undergoing a revolution. Now more than ever the swimwear industry is acknowledging the detrimental impact that manufacturing has on the environment – and we’re making changes. Sustainable fabrics, responsible production processes, circular business models and long-lasting designs are being pushed to the forefront to ensure the next swimsuit you buy hasn’t cost the Earth. 

Kōraru Marie bikini from the Coral collection. Shop here.

 

THE JOURNAL

DRAG
WORLD JELLYFISH DAY
WORLD JELLYFISH DAY

In honour of World Jellyfish day, we’d like to share with you a collection of interesting facts and...

WHAT DOES ETHICALLY MADE MEAN?
WHAT DOES ETHICALLY MADE MEAN?

Sustainability is a buzz word in the fashion industry – but what exactly does ethically made mean? And what...

THE HISTORY OF SWIMWEAR: VOL 2
THE HISTORY OF SWIMWEAR: VOL 2

In the second part of our series, we take a look at the swimsuit’s evolution over the last...

WISH YOU WERE HERE: HOLLY CHIPPINDALE
WISH YOU WERE HERE: HOLLY CHIPPINDALE

Photographer and Kōraru collaborator, Holly Chippindale shares her inspirational destinations and travel essentials. 

THE HISTORY OF SWIMWEAR: VOL 1
THE HISTORY OF SWIMWEAR: VOL 1

In this series we take a deep dive into the rich and fascinating history of the swimsuit, starting...

THE CORAL COLLECTION: THE ANNIE BIKINI
THE CORAL COLLECTION: THE ANNIE BIKINI

A great swimsuit deserves an inspiring name. For our Coral Collection we wanted to honour four empowering women from history who...

THE CORAL COLLECTION: THE ZABEL ONE-PIECE
THE CORAL COLLECTION: THE ZABEL ONE-PIECE

For our Coral Collection we wanted to honour four empowering women from history who have blazed a trail and continue to influence...

THE CORAL COLLECTION: THE HEDY BIKINI
THE CORAL COLLECTION: THE HEDY BIKINI

For our Coral Collection we wanted to honour four empowering women from history who have blazed a trail and continue to influence...

10 ESCAPIST SUMMER READS
10 ESCAPIST SUMMER READS

No matter where you are in the world, an evocatively written book can transport you to destinations far...

THE CORAL COLLECTION - INTRODUCING THE MARIE BIKINI
THE CORAL COLLECTION - INTRODUCING THE MARIE BIKINI

A great swimsuit deserves an inspiring name. For our Coral Collection we wanted to honour four empowering women from history who...

INTRODUCING THE CORAL PRINT WITH DESIGNER EMILY WATERHOUSE
INTRODUCING THE CORAL PRINT WITH DESIGNER EMILY WATERHOUSE

For our debut print, we wanted to honour the beauty of coral and bring awareness to the importance of...

7 FILMS SET IN THE MOST IDYLLIC LOCATIONS
7 FILMS SET IN THE MOST IDYLLIC LOCATIONS

From the turquoise waters in ‘The Blue Lagoon’, to Bonjour Tristesse's shimmering Côte d'Azur coastline – these are the cinematic destinations inspiring...

WHY ARE SYNTHETIC FABRICS USED IN SWIMWEAR?
WHY ARE SYNTHETIC FABRICS USED IN SWIMWEAR?

From bikinis to one-pieces, glance at the label inside any contemporary swimsuit and you’re sure to find it has...

8 ICONIC SWIMWEAR MOMENTS IN FILM
8 ICONIC SWIMWEAR MOMENTS IN FILM

From Brigitte Bardot's ground-breaking white bikini to Grace Kelly's timeless Riviera one-piece – these are the iconic Hollywood swimwear...

WISH YOU WERE HERE: CONSTANZE SAEMANN
WISH YOU WERE HERE: CONSTANZE SAEMANN

Constanze Saemann, model and founder of organic self-care brand, BASIUM, shares her most-treasured summer memory and the essentials she'd never travel without. 

WISH YOU WERE HERE: OLA NECHYPORENKO
WISH YOU WERE HERE: OLA NECHYPORENKO

Ola Nechyporenko, designer and founder of Olamii, shares her most-treasured adventure and the message she'd give to her younger self.

WISH YOU WERE HERE: OANA ROMANEIRO
WISH YOU WERE HERE: OANA ROMANEIRO

Kōraru's founder shares her bucket-list destination, holiday playlist and the essentials she doesn't travel without. 

WHY IS BUYING SUSTAINABLE SWIMWEAR IMPORTANT?
WHY IS BUYING SUSTAINABLE SWIMWEAR IMPORTANT?

The transformative powers of a great bikini is undeniable. However, while your swimwear needs to work in harmony...

WHAT DOES SLOW FASHION MEAN TO KŌRARU?
WHAT DOES SLOW FASHION MEAN TO KŌRARU?

Kōraru was born out of a desire to slow down, and a recognition of the imperative to operate...

THE CORE COLLECTION
THE CORE COLLECTION

Running throughout the soul of Kōraru is our love for the ocean. One of the greatest wonders and...

A MINDFUL SHOOT
A MINDFUL SHOOT

At the very heart of Kōraru is our aspiration for circularity. Modern fashion practises need to shift towards...

FASHION’S NEW WAVE OF REGENERATED MATERIALS
FASHION’S NEW WAVE OF REGENERATED MATERIALS

The past few decades have witnessed the fashion industry become increasingly disconnected to the world around it. Unsustainable...

KŌRARU X CORAL REEF ALLIANCE
KŌRARU X CORAL REEF ALLIANCE

We sat down with Coral Reef Alliance's associate development manager, Megan Crain, to discover more about our endangered coral...

close
img-banner
img-banner
img-banner
img-banner
img-banner