Fashion is currently obssessed with water, and it becomes clearer every day as we watch the Fashion Weeks happen – swimwear as part of the outfits, the ‘wet beauty’ trend for makeup and hair and much more
But this topic is not new at all for the fashion community, actually, swimsuits have been pioneers in the fashion industry in many different aspects. From its creations to the changes they brought concerning women’s role in society and even sustainability, beachwear has been showing how fun, innovative and green the summer can be.
And now that we mentioned it, lets remember that to be sustainable is no longer something you can choose or not to do: it is absolutely needed. The prioritization of ecological efficiency and innovations is now the source of the future growth of all fashion brands – swimwear included. But before we skip to this part of our talk, lets take some time to understand how swimsuit brands are being an example in the eco-conscious situation and in various other situations. Lets go back in time and see why bikinis and swimming shorts have been doing a revolution of they own ever since they were introduced in society.
Swimwear is the name given to a category of clothing often worn when participating in some kind of aquatic activity, being it in a professional way or just enjoying a day by the pool or at the beach. For competitive purposes, it should be a tight-fitting garment that reduces friction and drag in the water, but if that’s not the case then it just needs to be fashionable and maintain its functionality. But they have much more history than one may think, and to explore its history, trace how it has evolved through time and across different countries, will not only give us an insight into fashion, materials and design, but great understatement of female liberation.
We’re going to skip a few centuries and go straight to after World War era, when women’s swimwear trends actually began to differ across continents – before it they were all variations of the same bathgown. At that time, American and European women would wear knitted swimwear, but they had some differences depending on the contineny. In America, women would go for a more practical and sporty look while in Europe they opted for sleeker structures. Another big difference was that swimsuit fashion was accessible to most of the middle class in America, but in Europe the class divisions were very well defined – you should be able to tell someone’s level of influence and wealthy based solely on their swimsuit of choice.
But even though the new pieces worn were big improvements on what women used to wear before, there are still some problems and impracticalities. The knitted swimsuits would not take long to become misshapen when wet, due to the material of the piece – the fabric absorbs a lot of water, which results in the sagging of the swimsuit. These issues often caused unpleasant moments that would result in the pieces not being efficient. It was also dring this period of time that swimwear started to be seen in magazines as real fashionable garments, when famous fashion designers began to create swimwear. Chanel was responsible for getting swimwear into modern fashion with its one piece swimsuit and then some models could also be found in the Cannes boutiques of Lanvin, Schiaparelli and others.
But it was only after World War II that the belly button would be displayed and swinsuits would have two piecer – introducing bikinis as we know today. It appeared sometime near the summer of 1946, the new pieces were considered provocative for the social imaginary of the time and because of that it took a while for them to be accepted effectively. Even then, the new set was initially banned on many beaches around the continent, but it was gradually incorporated into entertainment pieces like films, art, and, later on, it became part of the daily lives of people.
In 1962, the modern swimsuit became more accepted than ever when a bikini stopped the movie industry. Ursula Andress was the star of Dr. No, a James Bond’s movie. At one point of the movie, she wore a white bikini – and it created a timeless mark on history. After that, designers had a little more freedom to experiment with swimwear, so a lot happened throughout the second half of the century. Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and other fashion brands started selling ready-to-wear swimwear in the 1960s and Rudi Gernreich launched his iconic monokini in 1964: a one-piece, topless garment that consisted of slim-fitting high-waisted bottoms which were held in place by thin halter-neck straps. Looking back, we can say it was a scandal – in the best way possible.
We can take the 60s as the starting point, because towards the end of the 20th century, women’s swimwear became more and more bold and colourful every time, being, for the first time, an actual reflection of the fashion trends at the time. Bikinis and one piece swimsuits were still the most famous swimwear models, but it now featured high-cut legs, strapless bandeau bikini tops and matching sarongs. Television and entertainment industry fully accepted it now Baywatch was on air, a show known for its characters’ red, high-cut swimsuits – it even created a new trend.
Now getting to the 21st century, a lot of the female swimwear trends from the 20th were – and still are – being naturally revisited and reinvented due to the cyclical nature of fashion. ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ one-pieces, high-cut swimwear and small bikinis will often be seem on the same beach or yatch party. Time goes by but women’s swimwear will always be more than just functional, it must also be fashionable, but one thing is new in female swimwear: brands being more inclusive of female sizing. Unlike the last decades, the pressure to look a certain way when in a swimsuit is slowly – really slowly – getting lighter.
And that’s not the only good thing we’re getting from it: an era of constant change, we have noticed the growth in the search and demand for sustainable fashion items. Opting for fabrics that pollute less, choosing brands with a good work environment, deciding to buy second-hand. But more than paying attention to everyday outfits abd actions, beachwear is a branch that needs to get on our radar. A recent survey revealed that, in the last two years, specially during the pandemic, almost 60% of respondents made changes to their lifestyle in order to live in a more sustainable way. The three main expectations regarding fashion brands are that they should reduce the negative impact on the environment, be careful about the health of employees and contribute to helping factory workers to be paid fairly.
If you’re wondering what it has to do with swimwear: an association of the relationship between fashion sectors and nature puts beachwear as one of the most connected sectors with the environment. Because swimsuits are designed for being in the water, many brands are work in a way that they can produce their products without causing harm to the marine biodiversity – so we can look our best in our favourite swimsets while knowing we’re not hurting the planet more.