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A guide to vintage bathing suits
Suit up in Vintage Swimwear
By Julie DiNisio
Today's women's swimwear is a far cry from its first incarnations. Because of the advent of rail travel in the early 1800s, seaside travel became more accessible. The bathing suits, on the other hand, were hardly as comfortable. At first, women wore full length, long sleeved muslin dresses with weighted hems for full coverage and modesty. Gradually, the outfits became less constricting, featuring bloomers, lighter fabrics, and shorter hemlines. By the 1920s, the bathing suits were only one piece of a light, wool fabric which showed off an unprecedented amount of shoulder and leg.
A decade later, swimwear was being made out of figure hugging latex material. And in 1946, the groundbreaking bikini was first modeled in Paris by a French stripper, the only woman willing to show her navel in public (at the time, a big no-no!). It took a while to catch on – in the '50s, many women, including Marilyn Monroe, wore bathing suit tops with corset-like structure and bottoms that went above their waist, only showing a little stomach if any at all. Not until the 1960s, when private swimming pools became more popular, did women start feeling comfortable baring it all in bikinis.
Illustration by Kristen Rebelo
As the years progressed, Spandex hit the scene, and bathing suits proceeded to become more figure hugging and less skin covering.
Nowadays, “retro” bathing suits have become a popular choice for those looking to add a little vintage flair and perhaps hide their trouble areas. Reproductions are easily found, just do a Google search. But for the truly brave, vintage bathing suits are out there. Etsy is a great place to start. Dear Golden has several vintage bathing suits for sale. Another website, Rusty Zipper, has some good, pretty affordable finds, though be prepared to search a little harder for something cute.
If you'd rather see the bathing suit in person, visit a local vintage store. Bygones in Richmond, Virginia carries both vintage and “vintage inspired” swimwear. Nearby Halcyon Vintage has similar stock, with styles from a range of decades. Bear in mind that no vintage store will have a plethora of truly vintage bathing suits. They can be a little hard to come by but worth it once found!
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