In 1912, women’s swimming became an Olympic sport. The most common swimming costume for ladies at the time loosely covered their legs, arms, and neck especially in the USA. However, the Olympians wore a tight fitting suit that was very similar to the men’s swimming costumes. These exposed the ladies’ arms, necks, and their legs from mid-thigh. And men had to chaperone the Olympic athletes to protect them.
The USA did not participate in women’s swimming that year largely because of the nation’s cultural norms at the time. Many American ladies wore dresses as swimming costumes.
By the twenties, form fitting swimming costumes for ladies became the norm. And they became increasingly more and more revealing as the years wore on. By the thirties, suntans had become popular thanks to Coco Chanel. During the decade, even some American ladies were wearing two-piece swimming costumes. The men were only just beginning to swim bare-chested.
Although it became the norm for men to swim bare-chested in the forties, it took a little longer for swimming costumes for ladies to show anything more than a bare back and a little midriff. However, World War II forced the warring nations to mandate a reduction of swimming costumes for ladies.
In 1946, the first modern bikini was introduced to the world from Paris. Apart from the lack of color film and the ladies’ hair style, photos of this revealing swimming costume for ladies are hard to distinguish from modern swimsuit photography. However, this swimming costume took a little time to become popular in the USA.
In 1964, Rudi Gernreich designed the monokini. Gernreich took his swimming costume for ladies to the extreme. The monokini was a tight fitting pair of ladies swimming shorts that went from just above the belly to just below the hips. These shorts had two strings that wrapped around the wearer’s neck. And that was all!
A photo was published in the Women’s Wear Daily that caused a public uproar around the world. It is said that Gernreich sold 3000 costumes, but they were illegal on most public beaches. The pubikini soon followed. It was meant to reveal the wearer’s pubic hair.
Just a little under a century after women first wore swimming costumes to the Olympics, swimming costumes for ladies became big business, not just fashion forward. By the nineties, some women were growing increasingly anxious about exposing their bodies in the manner that fashion designers were dictating. Designer Anne Cole released a swimming costume for ladies that specifically addressed this anxiety. It is called the tankini. The tankini was applauded by the industry, and most big name designers followed suit.
Soon after, the mixing and matching swimming costumes for ladies became popular as well largely thanks again to Anne Cole. Ladies were able to mix a particular bottom with a different top. Ladies were therefore able to customize the type and design of swimming costume which they desired and which fit their bodies best.
The mix-and-match style and the tankini are both still popular today. Now, swimming costumes for ladies has found a balance of style and comfort for the wearer.