Trends come and go like the tides, and that goes double for swimwear trends! The waterproof go-tos have experienced changes not only in design, but in what is and isn’t allowed by the poolside or when you are swimming in clean and safe water in the ocean. Who better to take us through the years of swimwear changes than swimwear design course provider, Cleveland College of Art and Design?

Beyond Speedos: men’s swimwear

Men haven’t always been able to embrace the snug fit of a good pair of Speedos. For example, in the 1900s, it was illegal for men to go topless on the beach. This meant the fashion of the time, while far less restrictive than women, was still quite regulated.

Join us on an exploration of men’s poolside swimwear:

  • 1900s – One piece suits were all the rage in this era, because, well, there wasn’t much of an alternative. Going topless was illegal, so it was short sleeves all round.
  • 1920s – Men were still unable to go topless. But, they pushed the boat out a little with sleeveless suits. Sun’s out, guns out!
  • 1930s – The topless ban on beaches was lifted for men, and they responded by wearing as little as humanely possible without being classed as legally naked. Short-shorts, my friends.
  • 1950s – After decades of less-than-ideal material for swimwear, rayon became the foundation of swimwear. Being quick to dry and having a silky texture, rayon was combined with spandex…
  • 1970s – …a union which blessed the world with Speedos. Bright colours and prints coupled with the tight briefs trend made for some startling sights by the sea.
  • 1980s – Perhaps Speedos weren’t the most comfortable piece of clothing? Whatever the reason, the 80s saw roomier boxers taking the spotlight of swimwear fashion.
  • 1990s – Ah, the 90s. Colourful Hawaiian prints on trunks were the way to go for men’s swimwear, coupled with the beach-goer requirement of a Puka shell necklace. Actually, did you keep hold of yours? They’re apparently making a comeback.
  • 2000s – Prints went a little out of fashion here, in favour of a return to single colours.
  • 2010 – Bored with board shorts a mere 10 years later, we’re now seeing a return of shorter cuts and brighter prints.
  • 2018 – Colourful, printed shorts are the trend of the poolside this season!

More than just trends: women’s swimwear

Women struggled to attain the same swimwear freedom that men did. In fact, some of the early swimwear for women was downright suffocating. In the Victorian era, women would have to cover up as much on the beach as they would anywhere else. Whole dresses, heavy and sleeved down to the wrists, shoes, and sometimes even stockings were even worn to maintain a women’s dignity and purity. And you thought getting the sand out of your sandals was a nightmare…

  • 1900s – Short sleeves and knee-length skirts were about as free as women got at this point. The dresses weren’t as heavy as the Victorian beach dresses, but they were woollen or flannel still.
  • 1910s – In 1916, the company Jantzen launched a range of suits that clung to the body, much more like modern day one piece suits. But with shorter hems on the shorts and a lack of sleeves, the company had to market smart to avoid issues. The suit was called a “swimming suit” to promote its athletic purpose.
  • 1920s – Swimwear fashion loved Jantzen’s design. By the 20s, women’s swimwear was brought more in-line with men’s swimwear. Sleeveless and short-shorts items came in, but with a catch. Women had to have shorts of a certain length, and failure to do so would see them fined or arrested. The rule was so strict that beaches had people employed to measure the length of a women’s shorts!
  • 1930s – Synthetic fabrics and the ban on short length being lifted saw women taking to the beaches with far more freedom. Lower necklines and shorter hems, along with figure-hugging suits were all the rage. What would the 1900s think?!
  • 1940s – Model Micheline Bernardi wore the first bikini in this decade. Women were working more due to the war, and with this time to show their strength, women also became far more confident. Bolder designs and daring spaghetti straps were very popular!
  • 1950s – And it didn’t stop there, as the 50s saw arguably the biggest change of all. Midriffs were exposed with the new bikini fashion and hit the ground running. It was still considered rather risqué though, so high-waists were used to cover up a little. After all, it was still considered inappropriate to expose the navel.
  • 1960s – Nylon and Lycra came into full swing in the sixties, and suits became tighter. The love of bikinis grew stronger too, attributed to the Brian Hyland classic, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. The song was release in June 1960, and bikini sales rose. With smaller, tighter suits, what more could be done for women’s poolside fashion? One, two, three, four, tell the people what she wore…
  • 1970s – …she wore a teenier Maybe not yellow or polka dot, but the 70s saw bikinis getting smaller, with bikini bottoms sitting a little lower than the hip bone.
  • 1980s – The 80s moved away from focusing on the cut so much as the colours. Bright prints and neon splashes brought 80s swimwear out of monotone with patterns and prints becoming popular choices. That’s not to say the cuts were ignored altogether, as plunge necklines saw more and more use.
  • 1990s – The 90s for women was the era of mix and match swimwear. With tankinis offering an alternative to bikinis and one-piece suits, women were encouraged to pair different prints and colours between their top and bottoms. For bikini-wear, cleavage was the focus; still embracing the 80’s love for prints and colours, the 90s saw higher hip cuts.
  • 2000s – Mix it up! Women were encouraged to show as much or as little as they want, with emphasis on personal confidence rather than following a trend. This era also marked the beginning of turning away from the idea of a ‘required bikini body’; if you wanted to wear a bikini, wear the bikini. If you wanted to wear a one piece, go ahead. This era was a pick and mix of previous trends. Go wild!
  • 2018 – Continuing on from the “wear what you love” trend of the 2010s, we’re all about mixing that idea with revisiting past classics. 2018’s swimwear trends are all about modern takes on contemporary designs. Monochrome styles are also a hot pick this year.

Sports swimwear

The trends didn’t change in competitive swimming as much as fashionwear, but there’s still been a notable change over the years. Famously, Annette Kellermann attempted to swim the English Channel in 1905, aged 19. She did so in a one-piece suit that covered the legs but exposed her arms. As we’ve previously seen, this was unheard of in the 1900s. In fact, Kellermann was arrested once for wearing such a suit on the beach!

In 1912, Australian Olympian Sarah Frances “Fanny” Durak, won gold in the 100m freestyle. At this point, professional swimmers wore the Janzen-style body-clinging suit, though still with shorts at a length.

The 1920s saw professional swimmers in fashionable one-piece suits with belts and skirts; the swim skirt would remain prevalent through the 1920s all the way to the 1950s. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that we saw swim suits become more streamlined for female swimmers. With no skirts to cause drag from the water, the suits were cut low at the hip. It was in the 70s that Shane Gould took home three gold medals for her country, along with a bronze and silver medal to boot!

The next big change wouldn’t appear until the 2000s with the full-body suit. These suits were noted to reduce drag with their form-fitting, streamlined design, and compressed parts of the body to further help improve swimming. So much so that 130 world records were broken in swimming between 2008 and 2009. As a result, such suits were banned from further professional use. After the ban, 2010 saw echoes of 1920s styles, as men are now required to cover only from navel to knee, and women from shoulder to knee.

There’s been fluctuations between swimwear trends for years. But where will the future take swimwear to next? What do the next generation of swimwear designers have planned to continue the trend of change?