Resort wear has come quite a long way since the Victorian Age, when women layered sleeved woolen bathing dresses, bloomers, hose and shoes for a day at the beach. Beginning with the advent of the two-piece bathing suit, first introduced in the 1930s, swimwear has become a mode of fashion all its own. If you’re planning beach holidays this summer, take a trip back in time with us for a lesson in the evolution of the swimsuit.
The Fab Fifties
By the 1950s, it was common for women’s resort wear to feature swimsuits that showed a narrow strip of bare mid-drift and bare shoulders. Still, a full-on bikini was considered rather risqué, even in liberal fashion strongholds like Paris. In Cannes, however, saucy starlets began showing up to media events in tight-fitting two-piece suits with very small tops and bottoms that hit several inches below the navel. An 18-year-old Brigitte Bardot and a young Marilyn Monroe were at the forefront of the movement.
The Swinging Sixties
In the 1960s, bikinis began to slowly shift from costumes for pin-ups and film stars to common wear for ordinary women on beach holidays. Straps were removed, waistlines lowered and the navel was almost always exposed toward the end of the decade. Fuelling the fire were cultural innovations: “Sports Illustrated” issued its first swimsuit edition in 1962, and Hollywood’s beach movie craze dominated the era.
The Sexy Seventies
The loosening sexual attitudes of the late 1960s ushered in a new breed of bathing suit in the 1970s. Designers begin making dramatic changes to proportion and silhouette. Resort lines featured string bikinis for the first time, with bottoms held together by ties, knots, straps and rings. In Europe, the topless bikini was making its mark in print and on real women on beach holidays in Tenerife, Monaco and other popular destinations. In 1975, French “Elle” featured models sporting topless G-string bikinis on public beaches. The tanga suit – characterised by a high cut leg line and zero rear-end coverage – also emerges on the fashion scene.
Evolution in the Eighties
By the mid-1980s, the string bikini had permanently stepped out of the pages of the glossies and firmly established its presence on the beach holidays scene. Average women embraced the sexy silhouette; the smaller, the better. Another hot trend on the beaches in the ’80s was the sky-high leg line. This was usually accomplished by narrowing the front of the suit bottom, resulting in the aptly named V-kini. The classic bandeau top – by this time just a thin strip of Spandex held on the body by elastic – was revived during the decade.
Old is New Again
Today’s top resort wear trends feature swimwear as clothing, paired with blazers and skirts; flowing maxi dresses and billowing pyjama pants as cover-ups; dresses and separates inspired by wetsuits; and lots of vintage silhouettes, caftans and capes. Of course, there will always be a market for skimpy swimwear. After all, isn’t that part of the fun of beach holidays?