Swimwear Retrospective

By Brigitte Topping

Images of perfection

The image of the perfect bathing beauty came to rise in the early 1930’s when neck lines began to plunge, sleeves were removed and hem lines were raised. The invention of materials such as nylon and spandex saw for figure hugging garments and thin shoulder straps, which were more appropriate for tanning. Hollywood glamour models and movies stars took a liking to the more provocative style of beachwear and began to be photographed by the paparazzi wearing the garments. A young Jane Wyman was one of the first celebrities to be photographed in a two-piece swimsuit on a beach in California in 1935.

By the 1950’s the swimsuit was being used a career prop by stars such as Esther Williams, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot as it showed their sex appeal and caused a media flurry.


Evolution of the swimsuit

The evolution of the swimsuit began to take off in the industrial revolution. Prior to this, bathing was reserved solely for health reasons. People who were ill would enter hot baths for a dip and then retreat from the water. During the revolution and introduction of travel, people became more drawn to the idea of bathing in ocean however during the 18th century swimsuits were still a heavy and impractical gown due to women’s need to be modest whilst on their seaside holiday. As times changed during the 19th century and women were granted the right to compete at the Olympics, the need for a swimsuit that was practical for the sport of swimming became a necessity. Annette Kellerman became a role model for young women with the design of her bathing suit that made it possible for women to swim rather than just bathe. Her design resembled the male swimsuit which was figure hugging and used Madeline Vionette’s method of bias cutting to ensure stretch, comfort and also gave a flattering shape to the body.

1950's marylin

As the years went on, things really began to take off for swimwear post world one when geometric prints and colours became more widely available instead of the plain black style. By the 1930’s swimwear was making its journey from a sporting wear to a fashion item. Swimming caps became very popular which was due to the sporting crossover, however, by the 1960’s these wear a fully fledged fashion piece which were commonly embellished with beads and flower pieces.


annette kellerman

During the 1950’s the bikini really started to become a more accepted swimsuit. It was banned from beauty pageants in 1951 however was reintroduced soon after. As the years progressed, boundaries where pushed in the designs of swimwear. Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, who in the mid-1960s created the first topless swimsuit, introduced the modern thong or T-back in 1974. The catholic community was appalled when Sports Illustrated magazine started photographing their cover models in the controversial swimsuit. By the late 80’s, g-string bikinis were considered the normal along the beaches of brazil and slowly the rest of the world got on board with the risqué style and it was seen along the coast lines of the world.


Today we have made a full circle, retro styles are becoming more and more popular, for instance, the 1950’s style high- waisted bikini has made a come back in a big way because it is ideal for women who want to look sexy without showing off too much of their bodies.


esther williams

Swimwear has come along way throughout the years, starting off as a gown dedicated to simply bathing for health reasons, to becoming a sporting piece for the Olympic pool to now being a fashion statement for many poolside and beach ladies!

Future vision

Australian swimwear is becoming a massive growth area of our exported fashion industry. Labels such as Zimmermann are leading the way in the export market, being stocked in huge departments stores across the globe such as Barney’s, Saks 5th Avenue, Bloomingdales, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, David Jones and other independent boutiques around the world.

JANE WYMAN swimsuit

Zimmermann was founded in Sydney in 1991 by two sisters, Nicky and Simone. It started off as a ready to wear line, the girls took a brave step and decided to fuse ready to wear with swimwear and present it to the world stage, soon enough they were standing the fashion elite. Zimmermann’s bold original prints, beautifully made one-pieces and sculptural bikinis create a new point of reference in flattering, sexy and stylish swimwear. Here was a quintessentially Australian design aesthetic and as the Sydney Morning Herald so nicely put it, “If Sydney was personified, she’d be bronzed, brazen and wearing a Zimmermann bikini, so synonymous has the sunny label become with Australian style.”


As Zimmerman leads the way on world stage for Australian swimwear, smaller labels such as Triangl swimwear are really taking off due to the rise of the social media generation. Triangl was established in 2012 with a simple, easy to use online store and an instagram account which, has now become a viral hit. Pictures of beautiful girls in exotic locations wearing these extremely basic yet visually appealing togs that make you believe if you purchase these bikinis you will look like a model!

Australian designers are really embracing our beach culture and presenting it to the world to show we are not to be looked over as serious designers of beautiful swimwear!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *