Keeping up with the changes in fashion is one thing, but what about swimwear? Swimwear trends change too, but in the past, they’ve changed to suit things as strict as laws! From covering up entirely to being allowed to show a little leg (gasp!), we’re joined by Cleveland College of Art and Design. The College has its own swimwear design course and have lent us their expertise on the subject.

Male swimwear

You may think women were the only people who had strict rules regarding covering up, but the viewpoint did once apply to men, to some degree. For example, in the 1900s, it was illegal for men to go topless on the beach. This meant the fashion of the time, while far less restrictive than women, was still quite regulated.

Cast an eye over how much men’s swimwear has changed:

  • 1900s – As it was illegal for men to go topless, the swimsuits of this era were one piece styles, with short sleeves and short that cut around the mid-thigh or longer.
  • 1920s – Unable to bear the sun being out without their guns being out, men toed the line of the shirtless ban with sleeveless one pieces.
  • 1930s – Finally, the ban on going topless on a beach was lifted for men and they were all too keen to embrace this new freedom. Shorts were now in fashion, and they were short-shorts at that.
  • 1950s – Rayon stormed the swimwear for Women world, with a quick-dry silky feel that innovated shorts and one-pieces. Spandex and rayon were also combined at this point…
  • 1970s – …a combination that would eventually lead to the well-known Speedos. These tight briefs were all the rage in the 70s. Along with bright colours and prints. What a decade to be alive!
  • 1980s – The 80s preferred roomier boxers. Probably needed a breather after the throttling grip of the Speedos Seventies…
  • 1990s – Ah, the 90s. Colourful Hawaiian prints on trunks were the way to go for men’s swimwear, coupled with the beach-goer requirement of a Puka shell necklace. Actually, did you keep hold of yours? They’re apparently making a comeback.
  • 2000s – All those Hawaiian prints got too much, it seems, as the 2000s returned to single colour, simple board shorts.
  • 2010 – 10 years on and we got bored of plain colours, and prints resurfaced.
  • 2018 – Colourful prints are still going strong, with a preference towards shorts-style cuts.

Female swimwear

Women didn’t get to be as free by the poolside as men. In fact, some of the early swimwear for women was downright suffocating. In the Victorian era, women would have to cover up as much on the beach as they would anywhere else. Whole dresses, heavy and sleeved down to the wrists, shoes, and sometimes even stockings were even worn to maintain a women’s dignity and purity. And you thought getting the sand out of your sandals was a nightmare…

  • 1900s – Women were still expected to cover up at this stage, though short sleeves and knee-grazing hems were allowed. The dresses were a little lighter than Victorian dresses, but used flannel and wool.
  • 1910s – The company Jantzen released a range of swimsuits that clung tightly to the body, looking more like modern one piece suits. As the suits were sleeveless and had much shorter hems than were allowed for women at the time, the company couldn’t market them easily. Instead, the design was called a “swimming suit”, focusing on its athletic purpose.
  • 1920s – Jantzen’s competitor against the beach dress slowly began to change swimwear fashion. In the 20s, women’s swimwear was made like the men’s and ditched the long sleeves, and the shorts became shorter. But women were subjected to rigorous laws regarding the length of their shorts. Exposing more leg than what was allowed would result in a woman being fined or even arrested. Women even had their shorts measured on the beach to make sure they didn’t break any rules.
  • 1930s – The short-length ban was lifted, and synthetic fabrics were introduced. Women’s swimwear now sported lower necklines and shorter hems, as well as being tight-fitting.
  • 1940s – This decade had the historic first use of the bikini, worn by model Micheline Bernardi. Around this time, women were allowed to work more due to the war efforts. Along with proving their strength, women began to become confident enough to show it – spaghetti strap swimwear began to appear, along with bolder designs.
  • 1950s – The 50s was a massive moment for women’s swimwear. Bikini fashion was adored, and exposing the midriff was a key focus of the fashion in this era. It as still deemed risqué, and high-waist shorts covered above the navel.
  • 1960s – If the 50s showed women slowly dipping a toe into the bikini phenomenon, the 60s saw women dive right in. Nylon and Lycra was introduced, allowing suits to be tighter than ever. Plus, the Brian Hyland classic Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, was released in June 1960 and is thought to have caused a surge of bikini sales and wider acceptance. So, where did women’s swimwear have left to go from here? One, two, three, four, tell the people what she wore…she wore a…
  • 1970s – …teenier bikini. It didn’t have to be yellow or polka dot, but the bikinis of the 70s were smaller, and the bikini briefs sat on lower on the hip!
  • 1980s – The 80s moved away from focusing on the cut so much as the colours. Bright prints and neon splashes brought 80s swimwear out of monotone with patterns and prints becoming popular choices. That’s not to say the cuts were ignored altogether, as plunge necklines saw more and more use.
  • 1990s – The 90s for women was the era of mix and match swimwear. With tankinis offering an alternative to bikinis and one-piece suits, women were encouraged to pair different prints and colours between their top and bottoms. For bikini-wear, cleavage was the focus; still embracing the 80’s love for prints and colours, the 90s saw higher hip cuts.
  • 2000s – In the 2000s and 2010s, we embraced a mix of everything! Women were encouraged to show as much or as little as they want, with emphasis on personal confidence rather than following a trend. This era also marked the beginning of turning away from the idea of a ‘required bikini body’; if you wanted to wear a bikini, wear the bikini. If you wanted to wear a one piece, go ahead. This era was a pick and mix of previous trends. Go wild!
  • 2018 – Continuing on from the “wear what you love” trend of the 2010s, we’re all about mixing that idea with revisiting past classics. 2018’s swimwear trends are all about modern takes on contemporary designs. Monochrome styles are also a hot pick this year.

Sporty swimwear

Competitive swimwear hasn’t changed quite as much as beach swimwear, but there’s been some evolution over the decades. Famously, Annette Kellermann attempted to swim the English Channel in 1905, aged 19. She did so in a one-piece suit that covered the legs but exposed her arms. As we’ve previously seen, this was unheard of in the 1900s. In fact, Kellermann was arrested once for wearing such a suit on the beach!

Sarah Frances “Fanny” Durak won gold for Australia in the 100m freestyle during the 1912 Olympic games. At this point, professional swimmers wore the Janzen-style body-clinging suit, though still with shorts at a length.

Professional swimmers in the 1920s sported belts with their one piece suits, and the swim skirt stayed strong all the way to the 1950s. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that we saw swim suits become more streamlined for female swimmers. With no skirts to cause drag from the water, the suits were cut low at the hip. It was in the 70s that Shane Gould took home three gold medals for her country, along with a bronze and silver medal to boot!

Fast-forward to the 2000s, and professional swimmers started wearing full-body suits. These suits were noted to reduce drag with their form-fitting, streamlined design, and compressed parts of the body to further help improve swimming. So much so that 130 world records were broken in swimming between 2008 and 2009. As a result, such suits were banned from further professional use. After the ban, 2010 saw echoes of 1920s styles, as men are now required to cover only from navel to knee, and women from shoulder to knee.

From vintage to modern and echoing back to vintage, swimwear styles have changed.But where will the future take swimwear to next? What do the next generation of swimwear designers have planned to continue the trend of change?


Shop the SexiMinx swimwear collection including; bikinis, swimsuits and separates here


Northern girl Laura is the epitome of a true entrepreneur. Laura’s spirit for adventure and passion for people blaze through House of Coco. She founded House of Coco in 2014 and has grown it in to an internationally recognised brand whilst having a lot of fun along the way. Travel is in her DNA and she is a true visionary and a global citizen.

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