How did we get from the flannel gown to the modern day Brazilian Bikini?

Swimwear has been part of our everyday life since the beginning of time. It has evolved over time from long-sleeved dresses to the two-piece swimsuit or ‘bikini.’ This evolution has not been an easy creating major controversy along the way. Today we consider swimwear an essential part of our lives, but we cant ignore forget all the religious and social changes that had to occur along the way in order for this evolution to be possible.

Our first historical encounter with swimwear dates back to the 17th century. The common swimsuit in those days was a loose gown with ankle-length and full-sleeves; it was usually made of wool or flannel so that absolutely nothing that shouldn’t be seen was exposed. The Bath Corporation official bathing dress code of 1737 stated for women the following:

“No Female person shall at any time hereafter go into a Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a decent shift on their bodies.”

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In the 19th century, the woman's two-piece suit was common, but we are, off course, not talking about the common bikini. It was also a gown involving a knee-length top and an ankle-length loose pant as a bottom. By the second half of this century, the French started to cut out the sleeves and to bring the top to hip-length with was a major change but still, the legs wouldn’t show because the bottom became just a bit shorter to show only the knees. By this time the beauty pageants, especially in the United States, became the popular showcase for swimwear; however, such events were not regarded as respectable.

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In the 1900s people started realizing that swimwear had been made with absolutely no consideration of its initial purpose which was actually swimming! Women had to be covered up in amazingly uncomfortable pants and blouses which were heavy and completely unpractical at the time of getting actually wet. Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimmer competed in a synchronized swimming event held in America and she got arrested at the beach for indecent exposure because her swimsuit was a model she adopted from England which was similar to men's swimsuits of the time, the swimsuit showed arms, legs and neck. After that happened, Kellerman also designed and made popular a line of bathing suits with her style of one-pieces which came to be known as "the Annette Kellerman" and were tight pieces which held to the figure and showed actual curves. By 1910 the swimming tights became socially common swimwear in many parts of Europe. The name "swimsuit" was established until 1915, from then on it started to shrink every time more, exposing arms and part of the legs exposing them up to mid-thigh. Also, cleavages started to happen now, still covering all the bosom but showing some chest skin. The fabrics started coming in new varieties and developing a lot towards being useful as for the comfort and the practicality of the swimwear.

It was not long before designer swimwear started to shrink further. At first, arms were exposed and then legs up to mid-thigh. Necklines receded from around the neck down to around the top of the bosom. The development of new fabrics allowed for new varieties of more comfortable and practical swimwear.

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By the 1930’s men started the shirtless trend we know today, those guys eliminated shirts for men in public spaces and swimming related scenarios, it became the norm by the end of this century. Now women wore more skirts than pants, but also with regulations for not showing anything more than their knees. One of the most noticeable trends is that necklines started to plunge at the back creating the whole open-back swimsuit style we all know. Sleeves started to disappear, and sides were tightened. With the development of new clothing materials, like latex and nylon, swimsuits gradually began hugging the body revealing the figure more and more, also trends that aimed for practical matters were started, like utilizing shoulder straps that could be lowered for tanning after Coco Chanel made suntans fashionable. In 1934, a National Recreation Association study on the use of leisure time found that swimming was now second after watching movies in popularity as a free time activity; this was all encouraged by the freedom of movement people found on the new textiles. In 1938, Speedo introduced their racerback silk swimsuit that was optimized to fit the body shape, providing more comfort and support for swimming activities, it uncovered the shoulders and for this they almost disqualified a woman from the Olympics in 1932, but the uncovered shoulders later became a norm by 1936, that’s FAST evolution!

So everything started moving even faster in the 1940’s. Wartime production during World War II required a lot of cotton, silk, nylon, wool, leather, and rubber, so in 1942 the United States regulated the use of fabrics for clothing due to the shortage, they mandated a 10% reduction in the amount of fabric allowed to use for women’s swimwear. To be able to follow these new regulations, swimsuit manufacturers had to start producing two-piece swimsuits with bare abdomen and start showing some skin. In 1946, the bikini we all know and love was first introduced in Paris, in this decade the halter became famous and the sexy swimsuit corset-style as well.

Even in Europe in the 1950s, where you were supposed to find the open-minded people in pro of the women’s figure liberty, there was an Italian magazine that declared that the Bikini should be worn only for sunbathing purposes or on board of boats. Women still wore one-piece swimsuits by then and when big companies realized the commercial opportunities of beauty pageants, they launched beauty contests to find the girls that would wear and promote their products, models. Designer swimsuits were now the highlight of beauty contests.

In the 1960’s things began to evolve much faster as the industry of designer swimsuits began to work based on the tastes and style of the youth market. Fabrics in swimwear were also starting to change in the middle of the 60’s, now they were mainly nylon or Lycra or a mix of the two materials, this made the new pieces stretchable and pull in-pull off which was an innovative feature for the time. In 1964 designer Rudi Gernreich created and gave us the very first monokini in history! This revolutionary and very controversial design of the monokini comprised a bottom that went from the thighs to the high part of the abdomen and was tied with shoestring laces that make a halter around the neck. This later evolved to the common monokini we all know and love like our MAYLANA Dani Monokini.

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