Vintage swimsuits can call to mind the style and class of an Audrey Hepburn, or the fun-spirited playfulness of a Gidget. While sporting a retro-looking swimsuit can definitely earn you the cool points, what’s not cool is when you have to pay a doggone arm and a leg to get one. Many swimsuit makers will slap the label “vintage” or “retro” on their bathing suits, but only for the purpose of charging way more than they could get away with if they didn’t use those magic terms in their product descriptions.
What you’re looking for is that “Holy Grail” combination of cool retro look plus inexpensive pricing. There are several specialty boutique shops online that carry these types of 1940s-1960s bathing suits, but you’ll have to look very hard to find them for decent prices. My suggestion is to check out eBay, because they have a ton of great, cheap vintage swimsuits that will fully fulfill the coolness factor, while at the same time going easy on your purse. To see what I mean, check out the latest real-time vintage bathing suit listings below:
As swimsuits have evolved over the years, they have generally drifted from containing more fabric to less fabric, and from a demure look to a more revealing look. There are voices on both sides of the argument as far as whether or not these changes have been for the better, but one thing that most people will agree upon is that the bathing suits from the 1940s-1960s have a certain level of style and class that really hasn’t been repeated since.
Image Source: NYMag.com
The changes in swimsuits over time have been an interesting phenomenon to observe. In the 1920s, bathing suit fashion took a pretty dramatic turn for the time by featuring more skin in the form of sleeveless tank suits. This was a radical departure from the pool wear of previous decades, but still ultra-conservative by today’s standards no doubt. The 1930s saw the introduction of backless one-piece swimsuits, which became the precursor to what would be considered the general design of modern bathing suits today.
In 1946, the course of swimsuit fashion was changed forever by the introduction of the bikini, much to the delight of heterosexual men all over the globe. We have French designers Louis Reard and Jacques Heim to thank for this fashion breakthrough. In the 1950s, the one-piece really held sway, but the bikini slowly began to take first place as the hot fashion swimwear of choice. By the time the 1960s hit, it was all about the two-piece, with the bikini garnering tons of attention from the fashion world and even spawning the highly-memorable-but-incredibly-dorky song by Brian Hyland called “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.” Modesty was a thing of the past by this time.
Image Source: ZoomerRadio
The 1970s really amplified this trend, with extremely high-cut bottoms and low-cut tops. The 1980s saw a continuation of this same line of fashion thought, only with more neon and possibly a “Miami Vice” theme song in the background.
The 80s called, and they don’t want any of this back. Image Source: PosterRevolution.com.
By the time the 1990s hit, the standard of barely having any standards was firmly in place, and the general attitude was “The skimpier the better.” This has not changed much in the 2000s and beyond, but since the fashion world has started to look back in time a little bit, there has been a surge in the popularity of vintage swimsuits, which by design seem to afford more modesty to the wearer. Now that you can wear a vintage bathing suit without feeling like you just stepped out of a time machine, you really can keep your fashion options wide open.
Image Source: SnappyPixels.
On a closing note, I thought it would be useful to include this video from fashion designer Jessica Rey entitled “The Evolution of the Swimsuit.” Just some further food for thought.