Val's View: Most Iconic Moments in Swimwear History

Posted on 26 May 2021

Swimsuits have been gracing our beaches ever since their invention in the mid 19th century. Though ancient Roman frescoes show evidence of swimsuit-like attire, the bikini-type outfits pictured were most likely used for athletics, and the world would have to wait a couple of millennia for clothing specific to bathing. Turn-of-the-century swimwear got a boost in 1907 when Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, dubbed the underwater ballerina, wore a form-fitting, tank-style suit. Authorities noticed and arrested her on a Boston beach for indecent exposure due to her ahead-of-the-times bathing suit! Harper’s Bazaar later praised her suit, writing that it possessed “the incomparable and daring beauty of fit that always remains refined.” 

Heads really started turning in the ’30s when beauties like Esther Williams performed her magic in movies such as Double Entendre and Honey Child. Fabrics like latex and nylon changed the swimsuit and allowed it to hug the body. After WW2, the rationing of textiles made swimwear shrink even further. Louis Réard and Micheline Bernardini introduced the modern bikini in 1946 and named it after the Bikini Atoll, the Pacific island where the atomic bomb testing took place. Even from its inception, the bikini bathing suit was considered Earth-shattering. 

Here are some of my favorite iconic moments from swimwear history that at the time seemed risqué and even scandalous:

 Gidget Goes Hawaiian


Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961): Surfer girl, Gidget, has an adventurous trip to Hawaii while wearing a tropical-printed one-piece. For a South Seas look inspired by Gidget, try Maxine's Painted Palm Faux Tankini Swimsuit.

 Dr. No

photo via wikimedia

Dr. No (1962): Ursula Andress stars in this James Bond spy thriller as a bikini-clad vixen who bewitches 007 in Jamaica. To channel this Bond girl's tie-front swim top, check out the Tie-Front Bandeau Bikini Top by Bleu by Rod Beattie.

 Beach Blanket Bingo

photo via purple clover

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965): Teen idols Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon model a playful and spirited look for some beach hijinks. To highlight your décolletage with mesh like Annette does in this fun flick, try the Ready or Yacht Mesh Insert Tankini Top by Beach House alongside a matching swim bottom

 One Million Years BC

photo via The Telegraph

One Million Years B.C. (1966): Raquel Welch wears a deerskin bikini in this fantastical reimagining of the cavemen era. For a swimsuit that has ample animal magnetism without the fur, get yourself a Ceeb Cheetah Bandeau Sarong Swimsuit

 Farrah Fawcett pin-up poster

photo via wikimedia

Farah Fawcett poster (1976): The Charlie’s Angels alum poses in a spaghetti-strapped red one-piece on what remains the best-selling pin-up poster of all time. To evoke this look without feathering your hair, slip on the Classic Shirred Maillot Swimsuit by Anne Cole.

 Return of the Jedi

photo via Insider

Return of the Jedi (1983): The late, great Carrie Fisher plays Princess Leia, an intergalactic heroine who dons a skirted metal bikini while trapped in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. For a cute swim skirt with a little bit of drama that looks great even without a steel bikini, try Beach House's Ruffle Swim Skirt.  

 Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

photo via Hollywood Life

Baywatch (1990’s): Pamela Anderson is a California lifeguard who wears a sporty red one-piece and runs in slow-motion to save beach-goers in danger. Reebok excels in athletic swimwear and the Curved Colorblock Tank Swimsuit by them is perfect for adding a little '90s flair to your seaside ensemble, à la Baywatch

Have you ever worn a swimsuit that brings back fond memories from your past? I’d say my least iconic moment was the 6th-grade field trip to the public pool. My sister made me a bikini that, let’s say, didn’t hold up when wet. On the other hand, my boldest swimsuit moment was in the ’80s when I did a fashion show where I entered as a mannequin on a powerboat. A bodybuilder then carried me to the stage where I came to life when the music started. Pretty out there, but a sign of the times! 

Over the years of modeling thousands of styles of swimsuits, I can say it’s been a blast to see the cuts and patterns change and the retro styles come back around. Lately, I enjoy a suit with excellent coverage and sun protection, but I can still bring a little swagger to my beach walk when the urge strikes me!

 What is your favorite historical era of swimwear? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Kathleen: July 12, 2021

    Great seeing all the different styles of Swimsuits over the years but have to say, looking at Raquel Welch no matter what style she is wearing it would look incredible, you wish you had that body to put any swimsuit on

  • ALEXA C BRICKWEG: June 08, 2021

    I thoroughly enjoyed this history of the bathing suit! Thank you for sharing!

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