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From 19th century wool dresses to mini bikinis: this is how women’s swimwear has changed

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Every summer the beaches and pools fill with bathers ready to cool off and have a good time. When that moment comes, Women have the freedom to dress however they want and have a wide variety of options to choose from.r: swimsuits, bikinis with neckline bandeautriangle, sports… However, this garment that is now part of our lives is not even a hundred years old.

Throughout history, women’s swimsuits have evolved, like other clothing, thus adapting to social and cultural changes. But the modern bikini is not the only “young” outfit. The reality is that swimsuits They did not appear until the end of the 18th century and early 19th century.

First of all, it is necessary to point out that in the Roman villa of Casale, in Sicily, a mosaic from 1,800 years ago which shows 10 women dressed in a two-piece suit very similar to current bikinis and playing different games. It is not clear whether they are taking a bath, but it is an important representation for the history of women’s swimsuits.

Part of the mosaic of the Villa de Casale.

Beginnings XVIII-XIX

However, the arrival of swimsuits and their evolution to what we know today begins in the 18th century thanks to the king george iii of England and his love of bathing in the sea. On the other hand, it is said that the first official bath of a woman did not take place until 1822. According to this information, Maria Carolina of Naples and Sicily, Duchess of Berry and daughter-in-law of King Charles X, she would have been the first woman to take a dip as an act of simple fun and entertainment.

Throughout the 19th century, bathing became popular, but at first it was done with normal clothing. Already in 1860 For the first time, a garment intended solely for use at this time was created, which consisted of wearing long pants, stockings and camisole. Furthermore, at this time women could not bathe in the same area as men and had to enter the water inside cars to avoid being seen by men.

Illustration of women bathing in the 19th century that shows the cars with which they accessed the beach.

The “meters” of the swimsuit

At the beginning of the 20th century, swimsuits began to fit more closely to women’s bodies. In these years the concept of “taking a bath” is also beginning to be related to exercising, swim. For this reason, it is necessary that they fit closer to the body and be more comfortable, although the materials continued to be quite heavy, since wool or, over the years, cotton was used.

Annette Kellerman, a pioneer of the one-piece swimsuit.

In this sense, the Australian professional swimmer stands out. Annette Kellermanwhich was one of the precursors in the use of the one-piece swimsuit, instead of the pants that until then were allowed.

Starting in 1910, more and more women got rid of stockings in order to swim and began to wear one-piece swimsuits. This caused a scandal among the authorities, who considered it an attack on morality. That is why in 1920 “the meters” appear, who were in charge of ensuring that the length of the swimsuits (whether they were like a skirt or pants) was appropriate. The standard rule was that You couldn’t show more than 15 cm of thigh.

A man checks that the length of his swimsuit is the allowed one.

Hollywood and the two-piece suit

At the same time that the ‘swimsuit measurers’ continued with their work, in the 20s and 30s The great actresses of Hollywood completely change the panorama by wearing two-piece suits. During these years the wealthy classes left behind the idea that tanning is something for the lower classes, so they created clothes with which you can show more body to sunbathebut without being too provocative.

In this way, part of the abdomen began to be shown and the neckline expanded, although it was not yet widespread among women due to the large amount of skin that was shown.

Actress Jane Wyman sunbathes in 1935.

1946: the modern bikini arrives

Micheline Bernardini was the first woman to wear a bikini.

The design that most resembles the modern bikini arrived in 1946 from the hand of Louis Reard. The French engineer could not find any model to present his design, which was completely transgressive, and that is why he had to hire a stripper to parade with it on.

She was Micheline Bernardini. It is said that the name ‘bikini’ comes from the fact that, upon seeing the garment, Bernardini told Réard: “Your swimsuit is going to be more explosive than Bikini’s bomb”, in reference to the nuclear tests that were being carried out in Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands.

In the middle of the century, specifically in 1960new materials are discovered and Lycra becomes a fundamental element of swimsuits. From here on, women’s bikinis and swimsuits have not changed much, although over the years many women have chosen to show more skin.

Several models and actresses in bikinis. In order: Rachel Welch (1960-1970); Halle Berry in the James Bond film (2000); Victoria Secret models Lorena Duran and Barbara Palvin.

Of the topless to the burkini

In this sense, the emergence of the topless and the thong. He toplessappeared following the “monokini”: a black swimsuit held by two straps that exposed the woman’s breasts. It was designed in 1964 by the Californian stylist, Rudi Gernreich. On the other hand the thong arrived a few years later, in the 70s, thanks to the Italian Carlo Ficcardiwho invented this piece in Brazil.

Since then, little has changed in women’s swimwear. Each woman chooses the garment that best suits her tastes and seems most comfortable to her. The biggest change that has occurred in these years was at the beginning of the 2000s, when another type of costume appeared intended for women who cannot or do not want to show their body for religious reasons: the burkinia garment that undoubtedly still generates controversy.

On the left, a model poses with the ‘monokini’, created in the 60s. On the right, another woman wearing a burkini.

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