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Women’s Swimsuits – From the 1930’s to the Birth of the Bikini

The swimwear revolution

Women’s swimsuits in the 1930’s

By the 1930’s women’s swimsuits consisted of a one piece, with either shorts or skirt at the bottom. They were revealing more skin than ever. Low-cut backs were now in style. However, they still fully covered the bust and backside.

early two piece bikini
A glam Jantzen two piece with the new Lastex

The invention of stretch

In 1931, Lastex was invented, which gave women’s swimsuits more shape and lightness. This also allowed designers to build in more support for women with girdles and light bras.

This new material marked the beginning of shaping and flattering swimwear for women as well as increased comfort. The innovations in swim fabric also increased the variety of colours and designs possible.

Swimsuits in the 1940’s

Women’s swimsuits came a long way in the 30’s, but it was nothing compared to the jumps it made in the 40’s. The state of the war meant that the amount of fabric manufacturers could use for swimwear was reduced.

Two-piece swimsuits were developed for the first time. They were essentially they same one-pieces as before, cut in half, with a small amount of midriff showing. Revealing more skin on the chest, but no cleavage, become the focus over showing off the back.

Women's swimsuit the bikini
The bikini has arrived

The birth of the bikini

In 1946, Jacques Heim introduced a two-piece women’s swimsuit, calling it ‘the world’s smallest bathing suit.’ It was named the Atome, after the newly discovered atom.

Only a few weeks later, Louis Reard introduced the bikini, named after the Bikini Atoll, where the U.S. tested the atomic bomb. It had even less fabric than the Atome, resembling the modern string bikini. It was so risqué that Reard had to hire a showgirl to model it because no one else would.

Reard stated that a swimsuit could not be called a bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.” The design was originally banned from many beaches and would take years to fully catch on.