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The evolution of the swimsuit, a symbol of women’s liberation

The evolution of the swimsuit, a symbol of women's liberation
The evolution of the swimsuit, a symbol of women's liberation

From the six-piece dress in the 19th century to bikinis in the 1960s, the garment evolved as the rights and freedoms of its wearers increased. Learn about the evolution of the swimsuit in the history from the Director of the National Museum of Costume History, Vicky Alias.

The nineteenth century began when swimming became a recreational and healthy activity, by medical recommendation.

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The belief spread that salt water was good for health and, above all, to be able to procreate.

Everything that was related to sensuality was prohibited,

and an excess of time in the water that would attract the eyes of men was avoided.

But time passed and customs changed. From the end of the 19th century to the present day, the swimsuit has evolved worldwide and our country echoed these fashion trends.

The clothing designer and teacher Vicky Salinas, director of the Costume History Museum,

tells us about the world trends that marked the evolution of the swimsuit and how they developed in our country.

“From 1910, people began to enter the water, just to get wet,

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since the weight of the suits made swimming complicated,

which, until then, was rarely practiced.

The beach was a destination for tours, walks, and rest,

and the daring ones who entered the sea were dressed in common clothes”.

Nani Swimwear appears at the end of the 19th century and consists of a short-sleeved dress, with pants underneath and hats to avoid tanning (a symbol of social status), accompanied by stockings so as not to expose the legs. The same happens with men, who used a rower as upper garment.

The designs were brought from Europe”,

he explains.

About the variations of designs and fabrics throughout the seasons, Vicky Alias develops that “the models only showed arms and calves.

  • With the passing of the seasons,
  • they are shortened and require bathing towels.
  • Sometimes the women used small changing cabins, with wheels,
  • with wider necklines and allowing the thighs to be seen.
  • Latex yarn appears,
  • which is incorporated into cotton and in the 60s,
  • with the appearance of elastomeric fibers, the suits are anatomical,
  • on polyester or nylon fabrics with Lycra that makes them more comfortable and quick drying.

The transition from the one-piece mesh to the bikini

Louis Reward, a French mechanical engineer in charge of his mother’s lingerie company, noticed on the beaches of Saint-Tropez that women were rolling up their bathing suits to get a better tan. That inspired him to design a suit that left the abdomen exposed.

Fashion designer Jacques Ham, in May 1946, created a two-piece bathing suit, “Atom”, advertised as “the smallest in the world”. Michelina Bernardino, a nudist from the Casino de Paris, was the first to pose in a bikini,

at a parade in Paris, in July 1946.

Michelle Bernardino with the so-called “smallest bikini in the world”

  • It was considered a scandal,
  • and its use did not become popular throughout the world
  • until almost twenty years later.
  • The director of the Museum of the History of Costume says that in our country,
  • “the pioneer in wearing two pieces in Bristol Beach (Mar del Plate) is anonymous.
  • The writer Marta Lynch was the first known woman, who used it in the Jockey Club in 1959,
  • they say, acquired in Capri.
  • On the same date, the actress Ursula Andres’s, in “Satanic Doctor No of James Bond”, also uses it.
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Swimsuits in the 21st century

  • The following graphic overview reflects the evolution of the female swimsuit in recent decades
  • There were many changes in fashion trends, in relation to female swimsuits.
  • until today where bikinis triumph,
  • promoting great freedom in the use of different shades.
  • “In this century there is a coexistence of styles. Although the one-piece swimsuit,
  • very hollowed out on the legs, typical of the 80s and 90s, has become fashionable again,
  • various models of bikinis have also become popular,
  • which have cutouts on their upper parts, of different types,
  • colors and designs, larger than the triangles of the 70s”, concludes Salinas.

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