What Did Swimsuits Look Like in the 1950s?

The 1950s was a time of significant change in fashion, particularly when it came to swimwear. The decade saw a shift towards more revealing and form-fitting styles, as women embraced their curves and showed off their figure in bold new ways. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what swimsuits looked like in the 1950s, exploring the key trends and iconic designs that defined the era. From the classic pin-up girl style to the daring bikini, we’ll delve into the history of swimwear and how it reflected the changing attitudes towards beauty and femininity in mid-century America. So let’s dive in and discover the swimsuit styles that made waves in the 1950s!

Quick Answer:
In the 1950s, swimsuits were designed to be modest and functional, rather than revealing or fashionable. They were typically made of wool or cotton and had a high neckline and long sleeves. The suits were often cut in a standard one-piece style, with a skirt reaching down to the knees or longer. The colors were often muted and subdued, such as navy blue, black, or brown. The swimsuits were designed to be worn for swimming and were not intended to be worn as fashionable clothing on the beach or in public.

Evolution of Swimwear in the 1950s

The Impact of WWII on Swimwear

Material Shortages and Innovation

During World War II, the availability of materials for clothing production was severely limited. This scarcity led to innovation in the swimwear industry, with designers using unconventional materials such as silk, nylon, and even parachute fabric to create swimsuits. As a result, swimwear in the 1950s became more durable and versatile, with new designs that could withstand the rigors of water activities.

Modesty and Practicality

The 1950s saw a shift towards more modest swimwear, as society began to emphasize the importance of modesty and decorum. This shift was reflected in the design of swimsuits, which became more covered-up and less revealing. Additionally, practicality became a key factor in swimsuit design, with suits designed to provide greater freedom of movement for water activities such as swimming and diving. The result was a range of swimsuits that were both stylish and functional, allowing women to enjoy water sports while still adhering to societal norms.

The Rise of the Bikini

The Bikini’s Origin and Evolution

In the 1950s, swimwear underwent a significant transformation, and one of the most notable changes was the rise of the bikini. The bikini, a two-piece swimsuit that consists of a top and bottom, was first introduced in 1946 by French fashion designer Jacques Heim. However, it was not until the 1950s that the bikini gained widespread popularity.

The Bikini’s Impact on Swimwear Fashion

The bikini’s impact on swimwear fashion in the 1950s was significant. The bikini allowed women to show off their figure and highlight their curves, which was a departure from the more modest swimwear styles of the past. The bikini also represented a new level of sexual freedom and liberation for women, as it allowed them to express their sexuality in a more open and liberated way.

However, the bikini was not without controversy. Some people viewed the bikini as too revealing and immodest, and there were even some places where the bikini was banned from beaches and public pools. Despite this, the bikini continued to gain popularity, and by the end of the 1950s, it had become a staple of swimwear fashion.

Popular Swimsuit Styles of the 1950s

Key takeaway: In the 1950s, swimwear underwent significant changes, including the rise of the bikini and the influence of Hollywood on swimsuit design. Additionally, there was a shift towards more modest swimwear styles, with practicality becoming a key factor in swimsuit design. Popular styles included the bandeau bikini, girdle-style suits, and one-piece swimsuits with sweetheart necklines. Hollywood actresses and sportswear brands also had a significant influence on swimwear design during this time. Proper care and maintenance are crucial in preserving vintage swimsuits, and collecting vintage swimwear requires identifying authentic pieces. Finally, there has been a revival of 1950s-inspired swimwear in recent years, driven by a renewed interest in vintage fashion and a growing demand for sustainable and ethical fashion.

The Bikini

Two-Piece Swimsuits

The bikini was one of the most popular swimsuit styles of the 1950s. It typically consisted of two separate pieces of fabric, which were designed to be worn together to form a complete swimsuit. The top piece was often a bra-like garment that covered the breasts and fastened around the neck, while the bottom piece was a pair of shorts or pants that covered the hips and thighs.

Cut and Style Variations

There were many different cut and style variations of the bikini in the 1950s. Some of the most popular styles included:

  • Bandeau Bikini: This style featured a straight band of fabric that encircled the torso, providing minimal support for the breasts. It was often worn with a high waistline and was popular among young women who wanted to achieve a youthful and playful look.
  • G string Bikini: This style featured a thin strip of fabric that connected the top and bottom pieces of the swimsuit, leaving the midriff and hips exposed. It was popular among women who wanted to achieve a more daring and sexy look.
  • High-Waisted Bikini: This style featured a high waistline that sat just below the belly button. It was popular among women who wanted to achieve a more modest and classic look.
  • Ruffle Bikini: This style featured ruffles and gathering on the top and bottom pieces of the swimsuit, creating a more playful and feminine look. It was popular among women who wanted to achieve a more youthful and fun look.

Overall, the bikini was a popular and versatile swimsuit style in the 1950s, with many different cut and style variations available to suit different tastes and preferences.

The One-Piece

The one-piece swimsuit was a popular style in the 1950s. It was typically made of wool or cotton and was designed to be modest yet stylish. The suit usually covered the entire body, including the arms and legs, and had a high neckline that covered the chest.

Sweetheart Neckline

One popular style of one-piece swimsuit in the 1950s was the sweetheart neckline. This style featured a scooped neckline that plunged down in the front, creating a sweetheart shape. The sweetheart neckline was often paired with a halter top or a bandeau top, which emphasized the bust and waist.

Girdle-Style Suits

Another popular style of one-piece swimsuit in the 1950s was the girdle-style suit. These suits were designed to mimic the look of a girdle, which was a popular undergarment of the time. The girdle-style suit had a high waistline and a fitted silhouette that emphasized the hourglass figure. The suit also had a wide, elasticized band around the bottom to provide support and coverage for the hips.

The Swimsuit Cover-Up

Sarongs and Kaftans

During the 1950s, sarongs and kaftans became popular as swimsuit cover-ups. These versatile garments were often made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton or silk, and were worn over swimsuits to provide sun protection and modesty.

Sarongs were typically worn as a wrap-around skirt, while kaftans were long, loose-fitting robes that could be draped over the body. Both styles were often decorated with colorful prints or embroidery, and were seen as a stylish and practical addition to any swimsuit.

Hats and Sunglasses

Hats and sunglasses were also popular accessories for swimsuit cover-ups in the 1950s. Hats were often wide-brimmed and made of straw or cloth, and were worn to protect the face and neck from the sun. Sunglasses, on the other hand, were typically made of plastic and had dark lenses that helped to reduce glare and UV rays.

These accessories were seen as an essential part of a complete swimsuit ensemble, and were often worn in conjunction with a sarong or kaftan. They were not only functional, but also fashionable, and helped to add a touch of glamour to any beach or poolside outfit.

Accessorizing the Swimsuit

Jewelry and Footwear

During the 1950s, women’s swimsuits were accessorized with a variety of jewelry and footwear. Some popular options included wearing hoop earrings, bangles, and beaded necklaces. To complete the look, women often wore high heels or sandals with their swimsuits. The jewelry and footwear choices helped to add a touch of glamour and sophistication to the overall look of the swimsuit.

Beach Bags and Towels

Another important aspect of accessorizing a swimsuit in the 1950s was the use of beach bags and towels. These accessories were not only practical for carrying essentials such as sunscreen and towels, but they also helped to complete the overall beachy look of the swimsuit. Popular beach bag styles included woven baskets and straw bags, while towels often came in bright colors and patterns to match the swimsuit. Overall, the use of beach bags and towels helped to add a touch of playfulness and personality to the swimsuit look.

Influential Designers and Brands of the 1950s

The Hollywood Influence

Actresses and Swimwear Trends

During the 1950s, Hollywood actresses played a significant role in shaping swimsuit trends. They were often seen promoting the latest styles on the beach or in movies, which made them highly influential in popularizing specific swimwear designs. Some of the most famous actresses of the era who were known for their glamorous swimwear styles included Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Ava Gardner.

Hollywood-Inspired Lines

Fashion designers also capitalized on the influence of Hollywood actresses by creating lines inspired by their styles. Many designers would replicate the swimsuits worn by these actresses in their movies, leading to a surge in demand for similar designs. These Hollywood-inspired lines were often characterized by fitted silhouettes, accentuating curves, and vibrant colors that exuded glamour and sex appeal. The popularity of these styles was not limited to the United States, as they quickly gained international recognition and became a staple of the global fashion industry.

In addition to replicating the styles worn by actresses, fashion designers also drew inspiration from the beach culture portrayed in movies. Many of the swimsuits designed during this era featured tropical prints, ruffles, and bows, which were seen as playful and youthful. This Hollywood-inspired style influenced not only the swimwear industry but also the broader fashion landscape, as designers looked to capture the carefree and sun-kissed aesthetic of beachside living.

Overall, the influence of Hollywood on swimsuit design during the 1950s was significant, with actresses and movie themes inspiring both the shapes and prints of swimwear. This influence was not only limited to the United States but also had a global impact, as the glamour and style of Hollywood became a defining feature of the era’s fashion trends.

The Emergence of Sportswear Brands

Jantzen and its Competitors

In the 1950s, the swimsuit industry saw the emergence of sportswear brands, with Jantzen being one of the most prominent. Jantzen, founded in 1916, was a leading manufacturer of competitive swimwear and had been supplying the Olympic teams with their suits since 1920. Their suits were known for their durability and performance capabilities, and they were a popular choice among competitive swimmers.

The Influence of Sports on Swimwear Design

The influence of sports on swimwear design in the 1950s was significant. With the rise of competitive swimming and the popularity of water sports, swimwear became more functional and designed to meet the needs of athletes. Jantzen and other sportswear brands were at the forefront of this trend, developing swimsuits that were both stylish and functional.

One of the most significant innovations in swimwear design during this time was the development of the “competition suit.” These suits were designed specifically for competitive swimming and were made from specialized fabrics that provided support and resistance against water friction. They were also designed to be sleek and streamlined, allowing swimmers to move through the water more efficiently.

The influence of sports on swimwear design was not limited to competitive swimming, however. Water skiing, scuba diving, and other water sports also influenced the design of swimwear in the 1950s. Sportswear brands began to develop swimsuits that were specifically designed for these activities, with features such as built-in flotation devices and specialized fabrics that provided sun protection.

Overall, the emergence of sportswear brands in the 1950s marked a significant shift in the swimsuit industry. Swimwear became more functional and designed to meet the needs of athletes, and sports had a profound influence on the design and development of swimsuits during this time.

The 1950s Swimsuit in Popular Culture

Beach Movies and Advertising

Film Representations of the 1950s Swimsuit

During the 1950s, films played a significant role in shaping the public’s perception of swimsuits. Many movies of the era featured female characters wearing two-piece swimsuits that emphasized the bust and waist, often with high-waisted bottoms. These swimsuits were designed to be flattering to the female figure and were often worn with a cover-up, such as a sarong or a dress, when not in the water.

Advertising Campaigns and Swimsuit Fashion Shows

Advertising campaigns of the 1950s played a crucial role in promoting the latest swimsuit styles. Many fashion magazines featured advertisements for swimsuits, often showcasing models wearing the latest styles on the beach or by the pool. Swimsuit fashion shows were also popular during this time, with designers showcasing their latest creations in elaborate runway shows. These events helped to promote the idea that swimsuits were not just practical beachwear, but also fashionable and glamorous clothing.

The Evolution of Swimsuit Standards

Changing Social Attitudes and Norms

In the 1950s, society began to shift its views on modesty and propriety, particularly when it came to women’s clothing. Swimsuits, which were once considered scandalous and inappropriate, became more accepted and widely worn by both men and women.

The Impact of the Bikini on Swimwear Design

The introduction of the bikini in 1946 had a significant impact on swimwear design. The bikini, which consisted of two triangles of fabric connected by strings, was seen as a radical departure from traditional swimwear. However, it quickly gained popularity and became a symbol of liberation and freedom.

The success of the bikini led to a new era of swimwear design, characterized by a focus on fit, functionality, and fashion. Swimsuits became smaller, more form-fitting, and designed to showcase the female form.

Designers began to experiment with different fabrics, cuts, and styles, creating a wide range of swimsuits that catered to different body types and personal tastes. Swimsuits became an essential part of the summer wardrobe, and women began to embrace the freedom and confidence that came with wearing them.

As society became more accepting of swimwear, standards for modesty and appropriateness began to evolve. Swimsuits that were once considered risqué, such as those with low necklines or high cut legs, became more widely accepted. Women were no longer confined to bulky, modest swimwear, but instead were able to choose from a wide range of styles that allowed them to express their individuality and beauty.

In conclusion, the 1950s saw a significant evolution in swimsuit standards, as society became more accepting of women’s clothing and swimwear design became more focused on fashion and functionality. The introduction of the bikini was a turning point in swimwear design, leading to a new era of experimentation and creativity. As standards continued to evolve, women were able to embrace their freedom and express their beauty through their choice of swimwear.

Preserving Vintage 1950s Swimwear

Caring for Vintage Swimsuits

Proper care and maintenance is crucial to ensure that vintage swimsuits remain in good condition for years to come. Here are some tips on how to care for your vintage swimsuits:

Proper Storage and Cleaning

Proper storage and cleaning are essential to preserve the condition of vintage swimsuits. When not in use, store your swimsuits in a cool, dry place with good ventilation, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Avoid hanging your swimsuits as this can cause damage to the delicate fabrics and embellishments.

When it comes to cleaning your vintage swimsuits, it’s best to handle them with care. Avoid washing them in water as this can cause damage to the materials and colors. Instead, gently wipe away any dirt or stains with a soft, dry cloth. If there are stubborn stains, you can use a clean, damp cloth to gently blot the area.

Maintaining the Integrity of the Garment

Maintaining the integrity of the garment is also important in preserving vintage swimsuits. Avoid altering or making any modifications to the swimsuit as this can cause damage to the fabric and embellishments. Additionally, avoid exposing your vintage swimsuits to harsh chemicals or excessive heat as this can cause irreversible damage.

In summary, proper storage and cleaning, as well as maintaining the integrity of the garment, are crucial in preserving vintage swimsuits. By following these tips, you can ensure that your vintage swimsuits remain in good condition for years to come.

Collecting Vintage Swimwear

Identifying Authentic Pieces

Collecting vintage swimwear can be a challenging task, as it requires a keen eye for authenticity. One of the first steps in building a vintage swimsuit collection is to learn how to identify authentic pieces.

Here are some tips for identifying authentic vintage swimwear:

  • Look for labels and tags: Many vintage swimsuits will have labels or tags that indicate the brand, size, and other details. These labels can help you determine the age and authenticity of the piece.
  • Check the materials and construction: Vintage swimsuits were often made with high-quality materials, such as cotton, silk, and nylon. Check the materials and construction of the swimsuit to see if they match up with what was commonly used during the 1950s.
  • Look for signs of wear: Authentic vintage swimsuits will often show signs of wear, such as fading, discoloration, and minor tears. These signs of wear can help you determine if the swimsuit is authentic or a reproduction.

Building a Vintage Swimsuit Collection

Once you have learned how to identify authentic vintage swimwear, the next step is to start building your collection. Here are some tips for building a vintage swimsuit collection:

  • Start small: It’s best to start with a small collection and gradually add to it over time. This will help you avoid overspending and ensure that you have the space to properly store and display your vintage swimsuits.
  • Shop in person: While it’s easy to buy vintage swimsuits online, it’s best to shop in person whenever possible. This will allow you to see and touch the swimsuits before making a purchase, and you’ll be able to get a better sense of their authenticity and condition.
  • Attend vintage fashion events: Vintage fashion events, such as flea markets and antique shows, can be a great place to find vintage swimsuits. These events often feature vendors who specialize in vintage clothing, and you may be able to find rare and unique pieces.
  • Be patient: Building a vintage swimsuit collection takes time and patience. Don’t rush your purchases, and be willing to wait for the right piece to come along.

The Future of Vintage Swimwear

Revival of 1950s-Inspired Swimwear

Modern Interpretations of Vintage Styles

In recent years, there has been a revival of 1950s-inspired swimwear. This trend has been driven by a number of factors, including a renewed interest in vintage fashion, the rise of retro-inspired culture, and the growing demand for sustainable and ethical fashion. Many contemporary designers have been drawn to the bold and daring styles of the 1950s, which offered a range of options for women who wanted to make a statement at the beach or pool.

One of the key features of 1950s swimwear was the use of bold colors and patterns. Many designs featured bright hues like pink, red, and yellow, as well as playful polka dots and stripes. These styles were often paired with high-waisted bottoms and structured tops, creating a distinctive silhouette that was both flattering and feminine.

Sustainability and Vintage Swimwear

In addition to the aesthetic appeal of vintage-inspired swimwear, there is also a growing awareness of the environmental and ethical implications of fast fashion. By choosing vintage or retro-inspired swimwear, consumers can make a statement about their values and support sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry. Many vintage and second-hand shops offer a range of 1950s-style swimsuits, allowing consumers to indulge their love for retro fashion while also making a positive impact on the environment.

Furthermore, many contemporary designers are embracing sustainable and ethical practices in their production processes. By using recycled materials, reducing waste, and supporting fair labor practices, these designers are helping to redefine the fashion industry and promote a more sustainable and responsible approach to fashion. As a result, 1950s-inspired swimwear has become a popular choice for consumers who want to make a statement about their values and support a more sustainable and ethical approach to fashion.

Preserving Vintage Swimwear for Future Generations

Digital Collections and Resources

As technology continues to advance, digital collections and resources have become increasingly important in preserving vintage swimwear. These collections allow for a wider audience to access and view vintage swimsuits, as well as provide a way to protect the physical pieces from wear and tear. Some examples of digital collections include online museum exhibits, virtual fashion archives, and social media platforms dedicated to vintage fashion.

Education and Outreach Programs

In addition to digital collections, education and outreach programs are essential in preserving vintage swimwear for future generations. These programs can include workshops, lectures, and classes on the history and significance of vintage swimwear, as well as how to properly care for and maintain the pieces. By educating the public on the importance of vintage swimwear, we can ensure that these pieces will be valued and appreciated for years to come.


1. What materials were used to make swimsuits in the 1950s?

Swimsuits in the 1950s were typically made from wool, cotton, and synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester. These materials were chosen for their ability to dry quickly and be lightweight, making them ideal for swimming and other water activities.

2. What styles were popular for swimsuits in the 1950s?

In the 1950s, swimsuits were designed to be modest and conservative. One-piece suits with high necklines and long sleeves were popular, as were two-piece suits with a bikini top and a pair of shorts or a skirt. Swimsuits were often decorated with bold colors and patterns, such as polka dots and stripes.

3. How did swimsuits change during the 1950s?

During the 1950s, swimsuits became more fitted and less loose-fitting than they had been in the past. This was partly due to advances in fabric technology, which allowed for more form-fitting materials to be used in swimsuit design. The rise of the bikini in the mid-1950s also had a significant impact on swimsuit design, leading to more revealing and form-fitting styles.

4. How did cultural attitudes towards swimwear change during the 1950s?

During the 1950s, there was a growing trend towards more revealing and form-fitting swimwear, particularly for women. This was partly due to the influence of Hollywood and the rise of the bikini, which was popularized by actresses such as Marilyn Monroe. However, there was also a backlash against this trend, with some people arguing that revealing swimwear was immodest and inappropriate.

5. What accessories were popular with swimsuits in the 1950s?

In the 1950s, accessories such as sunglasses, hats, and scarves were popular for use with swimsuits. These accessories were often chosen for their ability to protect the skin from the sun and to provide a touch of glamour to the overall look. Sunglasses were particularly popular, with many people choosing bold and colorful styles to match their swimsuits.

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