Swimwear did not become fashionable until the 20th Century. According to Wikipedia, during the 18th Century swimming was regarded as "of doubtful morality" and you had to plead health reasons if you fancied a dip!
The length of women's swimwear was strictly regulated in 1920s - beach patrol!
Modesty was of the utmost importance with early swimwear designs, and Victorian women were forced to change into their cumbersome "bathing dresses" in a bathing machine - essentially a beach hut on wheels.
It wasn't just women who had to cover up in the early 1900s!
By the 1920s women were able to shed their weighty dresses to bathe. They wore an early version of a swimsuit with shorts to keep their modesty intact.
It wasn't until 1946 that a man called Louis Réard designed the world's first bikini. Rumour has it that he couldn't find a model to show off his design, so he had to hire a stripper. I'm sure you can imagine the shock of guests at the poolside fashion show in Paris where he introduced his "bikini"!
Réard's bikinis became a huge success, partly due to his brilliant knack for marketing - he once claimed a bikini could only be called such if it "could be pulled though a wedding ring".
Louis Réard's first bikini (left) and the designer with a later design (right) - we think he should have designed sunglasses too!
Since then, swimsuits and bikinis have evolved hugely thanks to the development of increasingly technical fabrics and the wonderful imagination of designers.
London's Fashion and Textiles Museum (a total gem tucked away in Bermondsey) held a wonderful exhibition last year called "Riviera Style: Resort and Swimwear since 1900", which I had the absolute delight of attending. Here are some of my favourite pieces from their beautifully curated collection:
I love the idea of a matching swimsuit & skirt - so elegant!
Yep these men's swim trunks have a side corset!
A vintage women's swimsuit with gorgeous daisies
A series of very cheeky swimwear scenes. Note the pervy sunbather in the centre!