As summer brings warmer temperatures, choosing the right swimwear tops our to-do list for the season. Today, we're fortunate to have a plethora of models on the market, allowing us to select swimwear that flatters our figures and makes us feel confident in our bodies. However, this wasn't always the case. In the early 20th century, swimwear was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Let's dive into the significant milestones in the history of women's swimwear.


Beach Attire in the Early 20th Century

At the dawn of the 20th century, women's beachwear consisted of wide bloomers that reached the ankles, worn under long skirts and petticoats. The upper part included a tunic with puffed sleeves up to the elbow, beneath which a blouse or a rubber bustier was worn for fuller figures. The head was covered with a fabric charlotte, complemented by black stockings and rubber shoes. Choices were limited in color; mainly blue and black dominated, with the more daring opting for red. The only prints allowed were stripes, red and white, or blue and white. The traditional thick wool fabric used absorbed water and became misshapen in the water – not ideal for swimming.


Annette Kellerman's Scandal

Gradually, the stockings and slippers disappeared, the bloomers were cut at the knee, and the sleeves of the tunics revealed the forearms and elbows. In the early 1900s, French tailor Paul Poiret succeeded in getting men and women to wear more form-fitting swimsuits, still in knitted fabric. However, compared to today's swimsuits, early 20th-century models were almost monastic. This was highlighted in 1906 when Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman caused a scandal with her one-piece swimsuit exposing her thighs. She was arrested and fined in the United States and sent back to Australia. But the battle to reduce the size of swimsuits had already begun.

Coco Chanel's Revolution and Tanning

As going to the beach to enjoy the sun and water became common, men and women faced the question of what to wear for swimming. Coco Chanel sparked a revolution in the early 20th century by being the first to claim that a woman is only beautiful if she is tanned. She also introduced one of the most significant innovations in fashion history, affecting swimwear. From Coco Chanel's house, shorts above the knee started to gain popularity, worn with decidedly low-cut blouses or t-shirts. This innovation paved the way for the popularity of the first stretch jersey swimsuit with a plunging backline.

Birth of the Two-Piece Swimsuit

Just a decade later, in 1932, Parisian tailor Jacques Heim launched "Atome," the precursor to the two-piece swimsuit. It consisted of a bra and shorts revealing the stomach but not the navel. A few courageous women dared to wear it, showing their stomachs, which was taboo until then. The same years saw the birth of modern terrycloth robes, which allowed women to cover up immediately after getting out of the water, limiting decency offenses.

Launch of the Provocative Bikini

In 1946, Swiss designer Louis Réard introduced the bikini in Paris. This new swimsuit consisted of a bra and a wide panty, leaving the navel exposed. The name of the garment came from the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States conducted nuclear tests. However, the bikini didn't have an easy start. It took years for women to begin wearing it on the beach and another 15 years for it to be accepted in the United States. The bravest were fined and accused of indecency. Bikinis were often paired with sarongs and flower shirts to cover bodies considered too exposed for the time. In 1951, it was banned from the Miss World contest as too risqué. A year earlier, it was worn by Sophia Loren, winner of the Miss Elegance prize, and became one of the most popular garments. However, the Vatican condemned wearing a bikini as a sin.

Swimwear in the 1950s and Pin-Ups

In the 1950s, a kind of modesty still existed, and many women hesitated to wear a bikini. Many opted for one-piece swimsuits with heart-shaped necklines supported by bones to enhance their figures. This was the era of the pin-ups, women with curvaceous bodies, like Marilyn Monroe, one of the most photographed women in swimwear on the beach. Her thick, form-fitting, low-cut swimwear was designed to enhance the female body. The models ranged from one-piece swimsuits to two-pieces consisting of a bra and high-waisted shorts. The queen of pin-ups was Bettie Page, whose bikini became a weapon of mass distraction.


As pin-ups and cinema brought the two-piece woman into the collective imagination, the bikini became a key element in arousing male desire. It was Brigitte Bardot, photographed in Cannes in a bikini, who made it the most worn garment on beaches worldwide. However, fabrics changed. In 1958, the Lycra company introduced a material that dries quickly after long swims in the sea or pool. 

Today, countless swimwear models are available on the market. The pin-up-inspired models remain essential for curvaceous women who want to stay elegant and feminine even at the beach. Sahra Nko has created a handmade collection of one-piece bustier swimsuits to enhance the curves of the female body, regardless of your structure. Choose your Sahra Nko corset swimsuit, a reference brand for a nod to 1950s trends.