Making a Splash – Retro Swimwear

Well here we are almost summer and this got me thinking about vintage and retro swimwear. As everything retro is so fashionable I thought I would take a peek at what’s out there in the Bathing Costume Department.

These fabulous costumes can be found at For Luna a great site to find your perfect retro swimsuit.

I do have very strong memories as a child going swimming at one of those wonderful lidos, in my case New Brighton near Liverpool. For those readers not familiar with the lido, it was a large outdoor pool with great facilities for swimming, playing and also sun bathing.

My blue swimsuit was ruched all over, very fashionable in the 1950s.

The history of the fifties bathing suit is interesting.

In the 1940s corset manufacturers saw a gap in the undergarments market.  Corsetry was losing ground, but the new more revealing swimsuits really needed experts to design garments that hid faults in a woman’s shape.  Manufacturers achieved this by adding stretch tummy control panels to hold in the stomach.  Most also used bra cups and boning to give bust support.

Fashion swimming costumes could then be worn either strapless or with small straps that buttoned onto the inside or worn halter style as in this example.  Women still continued to wear all in one swimwear in the 1950s, rarely wearing a daring two piece bikini.

Zips were still used in the centre back of swimsuits retaining the corset like appearance until the early 1960s.  Sometimes zips were put in the side seam. The swimsuits of the 50s and early 60s were cut straight across the top of the leg in the form of a modesty apron that hid the separate matching fabric crutch.  Subtle changes occurred in a few years and the modesty apron style soon looked old fashioned.

Playsuits in the 1950s were also popular. Topshop & Ted Baker are  just a few of the many designers recreating the playsuit.

So here a few great swimsuits. This wonderful leopard print suit from Vintage and Retro is one of my favourites.

Don’t you just love the yellow polka dot outfit.

So readers can we achieve that Monroe look??

Each one of the late 1950′s swimsuits above had detachable straps and almost very woman appears to be wearing what we would view as the equivalent of a beach corset!  This is particularly noticeable in the mustard version which seems to almost be a coloured corselette. Some of these swim suits were from Marks and Spencers who still make one piece swimwear today.

A wide range of fabrics including lined cotton, stretch Lastex and elastic ruched waffle nylon were popular for 1950s swimwear.

You can see a floral version of a waffle elasticated swimsuit on the far left above.   Immediate right is an example of a ruched swimsuit similar to the floral one above.  Both of these are from Popina’s Swimwear. Such swimsuits were even more popular among children.

The legs on the floral and red swim costumes are also the ‘high cut’ leg of the day.  Today such legs cuts would be described on the label as low cut as suits have become cut much higher up the leg in an effort to make the leg seem longer and of course exposing more body at the same time.  For similar retro swimwear you may find something suitable at Popina. It really is superb reproduction swimming costume and figure flattering suit. With Mad Men all the rage how can you resist.

In the fifties the bikini was still thought of as risqué and best suited to film stars and strippers, but a tame version of the fashion a two piece playsuit was often seen as were skirted 1950s swimsuits.

Two piece suits had sturdy patterned fabric bras with secure wide straps which were set atop shorts with modesty skirts were popular.  They were especially favoured by women who wanted to hide their lumpy thighs or hide varicose veins.  These were usually made in satin cotton and printed with exotic vivid prints.

Completing the 1950s Bathing Look

Hair was so important to the fifties look that no woman wanted it to get wet when swimming, so lavish bathing caps covered in flowers, petals and rubber spikes became essential beach accessories.

This bathing suit fashion also moved onto fashionable occasion hats as decorative clusters of flowers that smothered the hats creating a cloche festooned totally with flowers.

For the beach women liked wrap shirts or button through dresses or simple towelling dresses as cover ups.  Sarongs, kangas or pareos only really gained popularity 20 years later.

Think of those old fifties films with women by the pool and you see the chic glamour taken to the beach swimwear.


Have a great day everyone!

Selma x

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