From bloomers and full-body coverage to the itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini, few items of clothing have been as revolutionary, or as risqué, as the swimsuit, which has seen creative innovations through the years and has caused iconic moments in pop culture history. Take a dip into some highlights:
1870s: After going from Roman and Greek women wearing bandeau-style tops and briefs in ancient Rome that were much like the modern bikini, suits morphed into modest full-length bathing gowns in the 1700s and seaside walking dresses in the early 1800s. In the mid-1870s, this wool bathing suit was the fashion for American women and covered the arms and legs.
1876-1880: American bathing suits with shorter bloomers started showing more arm and leg.
1885: Looking like they just busted out of jail, three men are ready to swim in all-in-one Victorian suits; stripes were particularly popular.
1907: Defying convention, swimmer Annette Kellerman caused a sensation in her revolutionary one-piece suit that helped her swim faster, but scandalously showed too much leg. She was arrested on a Boston beach for indecency.
1920s: Flapper fashion found suits more figure hugging and cut at the upper thigh, like shorts — scandalous!
1921: The one-piece became more accepted and women ditched skirts and long sleeves in favor of suits. But in some areas, beach censors still imposed modesty regulations, like making sure shorts were the right length. Here a Chicago policewoman checks for length violations.
1930s: While men’s ’20s swimsuits featured one-piece tank top and shorts, the ’30s embraced the change to swim briefs and bare torso. Even so, lifeguard Ronald Reagan cuts a fine figure in his more modest swim attire.
1940s: Two-piece suits came into vogue, giving rise to the midriff, as actress Ava Gardner models in 1945. But navels were still covered, until ...
1946: The first official bikini was introduced in Paris, showing belly button galore. The bikini was promptly banned in some countries, including Italy, for being indecent. Rumor has it inventor Louis Réard couldn’t find a model to wear it, so he hired a stripper, Micheline Bernardini.
1950s: Fabrics for swimwear improved greatly in the ‘50s. Nylon and elastic were added for more stretch and to help suits dry faster. Smoother fabrics hugged a woman’s curves but didn’t show lumps and bumps, and patterns were bold.
1955: Red was a popular color for women and men could be more racy in swim briefs. This 1955 ad for Jantzen introduced “the red-hot news item for the summer”: swimsuits and swimming trunks in boucle, the “brilliant new fabric is the talk of the beach,” and in colors that were “all divine against a tan.”
1960s: ‘50s structured silhouettes crept into the early '60s, with supportive strapless bras, high-waisted bottoms and novelty suits: covered in faux flowers, this bikini gives new meaning to the term “bloomers.”
1962: When the statuesque Ursula Andress emerged from the Caribbean Sea in this white bikini in the James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” she not only created an iconic moment, she propelled the bikini to new heights.
1964: The surf culture exploded in the ‘60s. The always sunny Annette Funicello poses on the beach with a surfboard for her album, “Muscle Beach Party.” She starred in such beach-party films as “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
1970s: Colorful and playful patterns were popular in the ‘70s. Men’s suits hadn’t changed much from the late ‘40s, but the fabric is not as bulky.
1976: Swimwear continued to get more revealing and daring, with thongs, string bikinis, and cut-out swimsuits. But it was Farrah Fawcett’s fairly modest red one-piece that created one of the most iconic swimsuit — and poster — moments in pop culture. The poster company originally wanted Farrah to wear a bikini. Instead, she pulled this one from her closet. The poster helped define the ’70s and adorned millions of dorm rooms and bedroom walls around the world.
1981: Tom Selleck’s swimsuit moment wasn’t as iconic as Farrah’s, but the “Magnum P.I.” star caused some excitement when he wore a speedo on “Battle of the Network Stars.” A few copies of this photo are still selling online for around $15.