History of the swimsuit

Today, “summer” and “swimsuit” are nearly synonymous; no summer holiday is complete without going to the beach! However, swimsuits are a fairly recent invention and they’ve gone through many changes since their inception. In this article we’re taking a look back through time at the way the swimsuits of today came to be!

Modest and cumbersome

Modesty reigned supreme for most of swimsuits’ early history. For women, shifts (a type of long undershirt, customarily worn as an undergarment) became required when bathing in spas or bathhouses in the 17th and 18th century. The designs and fabrics were chosen with modesty in mind - minimizing the appearance of curves and favoring fabrics that didn’t become see-through when wet.

Seaside vacationing began to gain popularity during the late 18th century, creating the need for beachwear. For women, swimming was done in “bathing gowns” made of wool or flannel, which had sleeves, a loose fit, and covered the body down to the ankle.

Practical and controversial

True innovation came with swimming gaining recognition as a “proper” sport at the turn of the century. With that newfound reputation, modesty began to take a backseat to practicality.

Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was one of the first women to wear a one-piece swimsuit - a fitted bodysuit that covered the legs and feet, and which could be made sleeves or short-sleeved. Аs it gained popularity its risque nature lessened and during the 1910’s it became shorter, ending mid-thigh.

Fun, decorative, fashionable

Finally, fashion began to coexist with practicality and swimsuits became more decorative.

During the 1920’s the one-piece became shorter and could have added frills and other decorative elements. In the 1930’s and 40’s, swimsuits often consisted of a mini dress or skirt with built-in shorts, quite similar to our LORA three-piece set. Different straps and decorative elements were used to add variety and belts were especially popular. 

Two-piece swimsuits had first appeared first during the 1920’s, pioneered by Burlesque dancers. Those swimsuits featured high-waisted bottoms, only showing a sliver of midriff. They gained popularity with regular women during the late 30’s and 40’s, in part due to wartime textile rationing. 

Here at PARAMIDONNA we’re no strangers to cutting-edge decorations: we’ve used Swarovski crystals, ostrich feathers and pearls.

New cuts and other innovations

Further textile innovations during the 20th and 21st century have made vast improvements to swimsuit production - greater stretchiness, breathability, and comfort, reduced transparency or color bleeding, quicker drying, etc. Our one-size swimsuit line makes use of one such textile innovation - these swimsuits that can fit and flatter sizes XS through XL.

As far as cuts and styles, there’s greater variety than ever today, including unusual features like long sleeves, like our AMINA bodysuit, or “vintage” trends like high-waisted bottoms, of which we offer various options, such as the playful SISI, or the glamorous OLIVIA.

Swimsuits have undergone a massive transformation over the ages, going from little more than underwear, to a huge and varied sector of the fashion industry. What remains to be seen is where designers will push swimwear in the future and we can be certain that there’s much to look forward to!