Last updated: 29 September 2020
Reading time: 10 mins
It’s no surprise that over the past hundred years what we have called swimsuits, bathing suits, swimming costumes and even ‘togs’, has changed immensely.
From dresses designed for the waves to the staple bikini that we all know today, what women had available to them for dips and trips to the ocean has varied greatly over the decades but every single design, misadventure and challenge has all paved a path for a new era of sustainable swimwear that we know is here to stay.
It was only at the turn of the 20th century where functionality in the swimsuit was even considered a necessity. Swimming came to be seen more as an active activity or a sport, compared to one for paddling leisure. Prior to this, women’s swimwear had been heavy and baggy, designed to cover a woman’s body for modesty and made with textiles of dense flannel fabric for the purpose of not rising with the water to expose any skin.
Left: Unsurprising, the ‘dress’ style was ditched by the 1910s as women began to participate in national and international swimming competitions, notably the 1912 Olympics where female competitors wore the ‘Kellerman Swimsuit’.
Designed by Australian synchronised swimmer, Annette Kellerman (left), in 1907, the initially ‘provocative’ design that got Kellerman first arrested for indecent exposure became the foundation for the beginning of an era of functional, yet stylish, swimwear
Right: It wasn’t until textile shortages during World War II that the popularised ‘Bikini’, named after the US atomic test on Bikini Atoll became the staple in women’s swimwear that is still seen along shorelines all over the world today. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the United States restriction on the cutting of fibres led to a 10% reduction in all material used in the production of women’s swimwear making the bare midriff a regular in female oceanwear.
It was then in 1946, French designer Louis Reard alongside Paris model, Micheline Bernardini, introduced what is considered now, the world’s first modern bikini.
Left: By 1934, the Malliot style swimwear had begun to hit shelves, often labelled as the origins of the modern swimwear. Women became more comfortable in wearing more ‘figure-hugging’ designs as rayon eventually was ditched due to its questionable durability in favour of latex, nylon and elastic wool for easier and more effective production.
It was also the decade that Speedo introduced their infamous ‘racerback’ design that according to her own biography, nearly got Australian breaststroke swimmer Clare Dennis disqualified from the 1932 Olympics due to its revealing nature at the time.
Right: As the decades progressed, more and more innovative designs popped up as restrictions due to female modesty that had existed earlier in the century became further pushed into the backbones of history, albeit with a few controversies.
The infamous ‘Monokini’ released by German Designer Rudi Gerneireich in 1964, labelled the first topless bikini, extended from the mid-drift to the upper thigh with two shoe strings at the top exposing the swimmer’s breasts. More modern versions of this style still embrace the revealing nature of its design but opt for a single-piece swimwear with cutouts.
Left: Although Reard’s style of Bikini was not immediately adopted globally, even initially being banned from the Miss World Contest, by the 1950s two-piece swimsuits became largely adopted by beach and pool-goers with Vogue declaring swimwear as a “state of dress, not undress” with the rest becoming history.
In addition, The polka dot was the ‘in’ pattern of this era often being flaunted in bikini style designs at the beach or local pool.
Right: Anderson’s high-cut red swimsuit from 90s cult-classic BayWatch gave way to a new generation of one piece swimwear designed to hug your curves and show off a lot of leg, a definite far cry away from designs that had been popular only 50 years before.
Anderson’s swimsuit became so infamous that there was even a Barbie doll made wearing the striking piece.
Left: Onwards from the 1970s, O.G. Charlie Angels Actress, Farrah Fawcett and Bay Watch Actress, Pamela Anderson both became distinctive swimwear icons when it came to the evolution of the modern oceanwear.
Fawcett paved the path for the low cut top with her now-iconic red swimsuit on display at the Smithsonian Museum, with her swimsuit poster selling more than 12 million copies worldwide and making Fawcett synonymous with the red one piece
Although boundaries were pushed in terms of design and creativity explored in realms that allow experimentation, our aquatic eco-systems paid a consequential price.
Following the abandonment of Rayon, the majority of modern swimsuits were produced using Nylon and then further mixed with Polyester and Spandex for colour and elasticity purposes.
The unfortunate result of using these materials is that being virgin plastics, they contribute to the demand for crude oil which encourages an increase in oil drilling which can have dire consequences on local aquatic life.
In addition to this, the textile mix is also nearly impossible to recycle and reuse and unfortunately every time swimwear is washed containing this trio, microplastics are released into our waterways, damaging the health of marine life.
Eco-Friendly materials such as ECONYL, a regenerated Nylon, REPREVE, a textile made out of recycled plastic water bottles, and YULEX, a plant-based textile made from the Hevea Trees rubber, are becoming staples in leading the way in a new generation of swimwear.
Not only do all come from Eco-Conscious origins but mass use of these materials will continue a process on removing an industry’s impact on micro-plastics in our oceans.
The glamorous designs of the 20th century pushed boundaries in changing the definition of what a woman could wear to the beach or pool, however, they were limited in their use for staying active in the water, especially when popularity for water sports soared in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Whether it was surfing, waterboarding or beach volleyball, there became a great importance of having a swimsuit that not only moved with your body but also provided support.
Designed for durability, OceanWear made for the active woman is not limited in choice , ranging from bold colours to quirky designs to one pieces or two pieces , all while maintaining an ethos that swimwear should be comfy and not cut into your skin.
According to the Business Insider, new options that are rapidly becoming available feature compression fabrics, moisture-wicking materials, and UPF protection!
There are some important factors to consider when you come to choose the perfect swimsuit for keeping active in the water.
– You’re going to need a swimsuit that stays in place among the waves. A good beginning point to start off with is the wider the band (wither on the hip or back), the more security that swimwear will give you.
– Recommended options for the top include: A Cross Back or Racer Back style, both reducing the risk of any lose tops finding their way off your body and providing peace of mind.
– For the Bottoms: A wide band with a draw string is recommended by Still Stoked to be able to adjust the bikini to your liking. A ‘Boy short’ style bottom is also popular for coverage and its fitting waist as a guarantee that optimal security is provided.
Surfing is not only a physically demanding sport but requires swimwear that can support your body through movement and not catch any skin or cause discomfort.
Notable points to look out for include:
– Play around in the dressing room (or your own home if you like to online shop) with your swimsuit. Lift your arms up and Lift your legs up. Do you feel any movement in the swimwear? Does it slip or is it cutting any circulation? Even if it is too loose or too tight, neither will give you the support you need and cause great discomfort on the waves. Take care of your body and look around until you’ve found the ideal match. To find out the best swimsuit for your body type, click here.
Once you have Security and Support, it is important to now look for comfort.
– Don’t go for a bikini top with an underwire. Not only will this dig into your chest as you lie down on your board but will leave nasty red lines below your breasts and cause great discomfort when tossing and turning in the ocean .
– Although looking fashionable may be important, function is more so. Crochet, embroidered and tassel bikinis may look appealing but unfortunately are prone to getting sand and wax stuck in them, unfortunately making them not that practical and subsequently lacking comfort.
SLO active uses YULEX , an eco-conscious plant-based textile, which is not only accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council, certified by the Rainforest Alliance, but is also flexible in nature; fitting the body how it should and not restricting movement in any way.
In addition, all our dye is 100% petroleum-free and by doing so, our CO2 emissions are reduced by 75%.
Every time an item from our Clean-Lines collection is purchased, you’re not only contributing to an eco-conscious production but we will also donate, on your behalf, to one of your ocean charity partners.
These three wonderful charities cover differing issues such as removing plastic from our oceans, looking after our marine life and using the water to encourage new beginnings for those around the world. Further Information can be found on our Activism Page.
Our product life cycle follows a ‘Circular Approach to Swimwear’.
Our strong relationship with our suppliers means that all steps are taken to ensure the most eco-friendly production process of your ocean activewear.
Our pieces are produced in a small independently run textiles factory in Italy with our offcuts being turned into hair ties and the rest being collected and sent to our carefully selected partners for the creation of diving accessories.
Our e-commerce store uses 30% less energy than a traditional retail store and our delivery methods to you ensure that the ‘greenest’ route is taken from our factory to your doorstep.
As the second decade of the 21st century rolls around, there are even further changes in how the swimwear industry is operating. We are seeing inclusivity of all body types, not just one deemed ‘a bikini body’ and more and more companies are challenging Whitewashing, diversifying their models and celebrating all those in between.
Earlier this year in February, the infamous ‘Sportswear Illustrated Swimsuit Search’ by magazine, Sports Illustrated, released its six finalists for the cover model for the swimwear issue to be released later this year. The models ranged from different ages to different ethnicities to styles and body types and all being representative of strong women who enjoy spending time in and out of the ocean.
So, when it comes to choosing your swimsuit, whether you’re active in the ocean or just enjoy a paddle,to continue the upwards trend that the swimwear industry is making both socially and environmentally, there are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Have a look where the brand uses as their materials and where they source it from. It will tell you a lot about how sustainable or not the swimwear may be and always look out for words such as YULEX, ECONYL and REPREVE (these are all sustainable textiles!)
What do they do to offset their environmental impact? Unfortunately, the fashion industry contributes to 10% of all the greenhouse gas emissions by humans and this will continue to grow if changes in production methods with a more eco-conscious edge don’t become ‘the normal’.
Do they celebrate/prioritise diversity and inclusivity on their media platforms? The swimwear industry has finally shifted its tone into one being more accepting and loving of all body sizes, shapes, and colours. The way this pattern continues to grow is by supporting and wearing swimwear that upholds those values and ethos.
Life for almost everyone at the moment is filled with rapid and great change with all that is going on in the world but it is also a time for change and action by reconsidering our actions and how we are going to progress moving onwards and upwards.
Sustainable Swimwear may only be a small part of looking after our oceans, but it gives everyone the power to make small actions to guarantee the protection of the waters and waves for the years and decades to come for those on and off land to enjoy.
Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to receive future articles on sustainable swimwear, and share this article:
Amhistory.si.edu. n.d. The Price Of Freedom: Printable Exhibition.
Biography. 2019. The Story Behind Farrah Fawcett’s Iconic 1976 Swimsuit Poster.
Business Insider. 2019. The Best Active Swimsuits For Women.
Curiously Conscious. 2020. A Guide To Sustainable Swimwear & Best UK Brands | Curiously Conscious.
Econyl. 2020. About Us.
Hill, D., 2007. As Seen In Vogue. Texas: Texas Tech University Press.
Hohenberg, A., 2015. How To Choose A Surfing Bikini – The Do’S And Don’Ts Of Surf Bikinis.
Kennedy, S., 2010. Vintage Swimwear. London: Carlton.
Ro, C., n.d. Can Fashion Ever Be Sustainable?.
Swimsuit | SI.com. 2020. Meet The #Siswimsearch Final Six Contestants!.
#TurnItGreen with REPREVE®. 2020. REPREVE® | Sustainable. Certifiable. Recycled. High-Quality Performance Fiber.
Yulex.com. 2020. Yulex Corporation.