Summer is well and truly here. Even if you can't get to the beach, pool or off on your holiday, we can still gawp at gorgeous vintage swimwear from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s together. The iconic pieces of the mid-century period have influenced the styles and fashions of future summers right up until this day, with many high-street designers and small vintage repro businesses taking inspiration from yesteryear.
The 1940s is when swimwear really came into its own. Prior to this decade most swimwear wasn't made from the most flattering fabric and was subject to strict guidelines. These guidelines really were enforced by the 'swimwear police' who measured how much skin was on show and who could actually arrest women who dared to flash a thigh.
Cut outs in one-piece swimsuits became fashionable during the 1930s, and this trend continued into the 1940s when two-pieces became more popular. The bottoms were often high-rise, a very popular shape for anyone familiar with vintage fashion, often looking more like a skirt than shorts, and the top was larger than a traditional bra with it only showing a band of skin at the navel. The fabrics were often hand painted making each and every swimsuit unique. This was uniqueness trend was a trait of the 1940s; if you fancy reading more on 1940s spring and summer fashion head to our little article on it once you're done here.
You can still find some amazing 1940s swimsuits if you scour the internet, vintage fairs and selling groups on Facebook. They will often be fragile and much more suitable for posing in than actually swimming, but boy do they look fabulous! If you do fancy a dip then repro will be your friend. Most vintage inspired reproduction swimsuits can pass for both the 1940s and the 1950s, and, like everything, it all comes down to how you accessorise. The 1940s was all about rich and powerful colours to bring brightness to their dark world. We love how our Heavy Carved fakelite looks with 1940s swimwear, giving it the added note of decadence, especially when teamed with some of our woven bangles as well.
Post-war and post-rationing fashion was allowed to come into it's element. The 1950s was the decade of holidays at home and aboard. Holiday parks like Butlins and our favourite Pontins (ahem) gave families the opportunity to have time away together, and with that came more excuses to get creative with swimwear.
Although the bikini was officially invented in 1946 (debatable depending on what you define a bikini as but for the purpose of this blog we're going with 1946) it was just a bit too risque for the masses for a few more years. By the mid-1950s, with teenage rebellion wafting through the air, the bikini was here and it was here to stay. Bottoms became smaller and busts became more, er, prominent. Racier Hollywood starlet pin-ups like Jayne Mansfield and Brigitte Bardot popularised the skimpier bikini, but the traditional one piece remained popular in the magazines and with the public - who can forget the white swimsuit worn by Marilyn Monroe in her Sam Shaw photoshoot from 1956?
1950s swimsuits are much easier to come by thanks to them being ever so slightly newer and made from much more durable fabrics. Although I still wouldn't recommend swimming in them (especially not in chlorinated water) they will be more forgiving than their previous counterparts. Once again, reproduction will be your best friend. I love shopping from Outerlimitz for my reproduction stuff. Designed by Di Brooks their clothing is great quality and comes in a wide range of sizes - plus they do swimwear! Not just swimwear either, they do all the beachwear you could think of including towel cover-ups which are perfect for the beach. Other options include Bettylicious who have such an amazing selection of 1950s inspired swimsuits, and, when in doubt, Unique Vintage will always have our back. Unique Vintage have a plethora of reproduction pieces on their website, including us! (That's another tip you can have for free. If we are out of stock of any of our jewellery, check in with them as they might have over on their site.)
The 1960sNow the 1960s is the decade where you can explore a vintage style with more modern note. The fashion industry is always taking influence from this iconic decade, whether it be in prints, patterns or accessories. For swimwear, bikinis got much, much, much smaller than during the 1940s and 1950s, actually becoming much more like the bikini designed by Louis Réard back in 1946. This trend has stuck with us for many years which means that for a 1960s beach vibe you can find many inspired pieces on the high street today. You want to look out for big, bold colours (think oranges and greens) with swirly, psychedelic prints if you're going for the west coast California vibe, or go for polka dots if you want the itsy-bitsy-yellow-polka-dot-bikini look.
What is going to make it really stand out as a 1960s inspired outfit is going to be the accessories. Build yourself some big ol' hair (tease, tease and tease!), shield your eyes with some oversized sunglasses, and, of course, drip yourself in lots of jewellery. The drop hoop earrings were super popular throughout the entire decade and look great with a mahoosive beehive. Team them with a stack of bangles and jangle your way to the beach. The 1960s was all about clashing colours so if you're wearing orange think about teaming them with green jewellery, pinks with blues, yellows with purples. You get the idea.
I love vintage swimwear and just being by the beach in general (I grew up on the coast and feel a bit funny when I go too in land) so this was a super fun article to write. I think the late 1950s and early 1960s are my favourite, but I find so much vintage fashion inspiration in it all. Where shall we shine the spotlight next?