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Womens Swimsuits Throughout History Essay

When it comes to swimwear these days, there are endless styles and options to choose from. There's the minimalist one-piece, the retro-style separates, the skimpy triangle bikini, and frankly, anything in between. But that wasn't always the case.

Back in the mid-1800s, women wore full-length, full-coverage dresses that limited any kind of swimming activity to simply wading in the water. Flash forward to post-World War I and the first-ever one-piece, or maillot, was invented, but because of its wool composition, it sagged when it was wet. And then there were the string bikinis that only the likes of Brigitte Bardot or Christie Brinkley could pull off in the '60s and '70s like the bombshells they were.

And now it's come full circle, thanks to Taylor Swift, who was in no small part responsible for bringing back the retro, 1950s-style aesthetic. Scroll through our timeline to see how swimsuits have evolved through the ages.

  • 1. Mid-1800s

    Cumbersome full-length dresses limited women to only wading, not swimming, in the water. To keep legs covered, skirts were weighted down with lead, and bloomers and stockings were worn underneath.

  • 2. 1900s

    Bathing costumes lightened up—a little. The popular princess style, a one-piece with a knee-length skirt and stockings, emerged. Police patrolled the shores, stopping women who showed too much calf.

  • 3. 1920s

    After World War I, the one-piece, or maillot, arrived. These were not the close-fitting numbers we wear today, but romper-style suits in dark ribbed wool that covered part of the thigh and sagged unattractively when wet.

  • 4. 1940s

    World War II rationing and the idolization of the hourglass figure lead to sleeker styles—like Ava Gardner's chic polka-dot two-piece, made voluptuous with new stretch fabrics, built-in brassieres, and stomach panels.

  • 5. 1960s

    Though "invented" in 1946, the navel-baring bikini didn't become mainstream until the mid-'60s, accompanied by softer, skimpier tops with skinnier straps. No one nailed this look better than Brigitte Bardot.

  • 6. 1980s

    Fashion's fixation with the extremely slender gave way to more athletic, fuller-breasted bodies. Sporty styles came into vogue, epitomized by the red one-pieces worn by the Baywatch cast at the end of the decade.

  • 7. 1990s

    Swimwear fashion split into two camps in this designer-obsessed decade: the ostentatiously glamorous, heavy on gold satin and logos, and the minimalist, seen in the clean lines of Naomi Campbell's Hermès suit. 

  • 8. 2000s

    Sporty triangle tops and hipster bottoms showcased Gisele-esque physiques, while the rise of mix-and-match options allowed women to individualize their looks.

  • 9. 2010s

    Ladylike elegance returns to the beach, with 1950s-era silhouettes, favored by trendsetters like Taylor Swift, making an unexpected comeback alongside more modern styles, featuring ruffled or scallopped necklines.

Posted In:Brigitte Bardot, Christie Brinkley, Fashion, Swimsuits, Taylor Swift

Love them or hate them, bathing suits are an essential part of our beach going experience. While there are some discrepancies as to just how long they've been around (two-pieces have been worn since as early as 1400 B.C.) there is no denying their summer staple status.

It's not really surprising then, that multiple people have claimed the rights to inventing the bikini -- both fashion designer Jacques Heim and mechanical engineer Louis Reard say they're the first. They can, however, agree on at least one thing: its birthplace. Both cite the French Riviera as its original home in 1946.

Bathing suits have come a long way since ancient times. They have evolved through a slew of styles -- high waisted, one-piece, string and cut-out, to name a few -- and will bring in an estimated $17.6 billions in 2015 alone. They even have an entire magazine devoted to women wearing them. But when you take a look at some of the most iconic looks over the years, one thing is for sure: they have, and always will be, in style.

Of course, there have been some suits that have simply made a more lasting impression than others.

Behold, some of our favorite swimsuits from the last century and today.

1930s


Left: Swimsuit Model, Center:Three Army Girls, Right: Model wearing a Jantzen swimsuit

1940s


Left: Two models in Cole swimsuits, Center: Model, Right: Alma Thoms

1950s


Left: Esther Williams, Center: model Jackie, Right: Esther Williams

1960s


Left: Natalie Wood, Center: Audrey Hepburn, Right: Raquel Welch

1970s


Left: Jill St. John, Center: model, Right: Ann-Margret

1980s


Left: Nicolette Sheridan, Center: Florence Griffith Joyner, Right: A model wears St. Raphael

1990s


Left: The ladies of "Saved By The Bell," Center: Pamela Anderson, Right: Tyra Banks

2000s


Left: Halle Berry, Center: Kim Kardashian, Right: Annie Martin & Bridget Hall

2010s


Left: A model poses at Miami Swim Week, Center: Kate Upton, Right: Maria Menounous