What you wear into the water, and how much skin you choose to reveal, is now mostly a matter of modesty (or lack thereof) and personal taste. Not so long ago, the options were much more limited, for men and women both.

Swimwear has gone through some pretty amazing transformations over the last couple hundred years. Let’s take a look at how swimsuits have evolved, what’s coming next and a few fun and crazy ideas the fashion world has come up with along the way.

Bloomers and Black Stockings


Back in the day, and by the ‘day’ we mean the mid-to-late 19th century, bathers had to cover up just about everything. For women, this meant donning bloomers and black stockings with drawers. With the dawn of the 20th century, exposing flesh on the arms was eventually allowed. The cumbersome and multiple layers started coming off from there.

Athletic Tank Suits


In the 1920s, one-piece athletic tank suits became fashionable, and allowed the people wearing them to actually swim for a change, rather than just floundering around in the water like a dying seal. These body-hugging wool suits revealed a lot more skin than the swimwear that had come before. You could actually see people’s arms and legs! Imagine the scandal along the shore.

Men’s Wool Swimsuits


A lot of attention has been paid to women’s swimwear, but men had a pretty rough go of it for a while as well. Full body wool swimsuits were the norm for many years. These uncomfortable garments tended to get weighed down in the water, and because of the loose fit, fall off. Over time, the suits lost the sleeves, and the trunks became shorter, allowing for more freedom of movement, but the suits still had to have some kind of ‘skirt,’ even for the fellows. Go figure.

Corset One-Piece Swimsuits


In the mid-20th century, one-piece corset type swimsuits became all the rage. Women weren’t really buying traditional corsets anymore, but since they were now allowed to wear more revealing swimsuits, the corset manufactures turned their skills to making bathing suits that helped women hide the imperfections they wanted to hide, while accentuating the lines and curves they wanted to show off.

The Australian ‘Speedo’


In the 1950s, the Australian company ‘Speedo’ began manufacturing men’s swimwear with nylon. Nylon suits led to the trend of string-tied briefs and bikini-briefs for men. As time progressed, these tight-fitting swimsuits became even tighter, and even smaller, allowing competition swimmers to race through the water with almost no drag. Of course, when you see a guy in a tight-fitting suit now, and he happens to have a large beer gut, you might rue the day nylon and spandex men’s suits were invented. The newer FASTSKIN suits Speedo introduced a few years back actually cover up more skin than the older models. Not every trend marches forward


Bud Light Lime-A-Rita

The two-piece bikini changed everything. It first appeared in France in 1947, and caused quite a sensation, and a lot of controversy. The swimsuit was modeled after an Ancient Greek suit, which women wore when competing in sports. The inventor of the modern bikini, Louis Réard, named his suit for a Pacific atoll where the first atomic bombs were tested. He knew his swimwear would ‘explode’ onto the fashion scene, as the bikinis most certainly did.

The Thong


Why stop with the bikini when you can make a suit with even less material? And voila, the Brazilians came up with the thong, or at least the popularized beach version of this small sliver of cloth. The thong bikini bottom has often been compared to dental floss, due to the thin strip of fabric covering the wearer’s posterior, which leaves little to the imagination.

'Star Wars' Swimsuits

Star Wars Swimsuit

Once the bikini boundary was crossed, colors and playful motifs began to make there way more and more into swimsuit designs. Jungle patterns, advertisements and pop cultural references could be seen everywhere. One of the coolest ideas, at least for science fiction nerds, was the invention of the Star Wars swimsuit. Who wouldn’t want to be seen out on the beach as R2D2?


Virgin London Marathon 2012

If you caught the flick ‘Borat,’ then you know what a mankini is. It’s a one-piece swimsuit made of very little fabric that reveals most of the male physique. Mankinis started out as a joke, but have spread to quite a few countries. There’s a good chance you might see one on your local beach some time soon, or on some random guy running down the street. You've been warned.

Laser Swimsuits

Laser Swimsuits

The future of swimsuits is lasers. Lasers let designers cut, mold and assemble fabrics without having to stich the fabric together. The processes is called ‘laser sintering.’ Combined with 3-D printing techniques, laser swimsuits can be very stylish, and very practical and comfortable (as well as very expensive), letting you glide through the water like a dolphin. Maybe down the road, manufacturers will dispense with tangible materials all together, and just make swimwear out of holograms. Who knows what the future will bring?

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