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For most of recorded history, the first swimming costume or swim shorts was actually no swimming costume at all. While in Roman murals dating back to 300A.D. depicted a 2 piece suit that women supposedly wore, that were similar to the modern day bikini’s, there are no references to suggest that they wore these as swim suits.

However, in the 17th century, Roman spas began to grow in popularity, and bathing suits began to be worn far more often. In 1687, a travel author Celia Fiennes described a typical costume as “garments made of fine yellow canvas”, and with the conservative outlook particularly on women in the 1700s, it is no surprise that the modern day bikini would’ve been highly frowned upon.

 

Modesty Over Fashion

While bathing suits were generally used in the 1700s, due to the focus on modesty and the idea that it was ‘proper’ to keep the skin as white as possible, the advancement towards the modern day bikini did begin here. However at this time, it was very much a modesty over fashion mindset, and some women were even known to sew weights into the hem of their bathing gowns to prevent it from floating and showing their legs.

 

Two Piece Swimming Costumes

In the late 1700s however, two piece swimming costumes began to appear. The author, Tobias Smollett, describes an elaborate two-piece swimming costume that was made of linen and this began to be a precursor to the bikini. However, a fashion magazine in 1810 La Belle Assemblee Fashions, described women’s appropriate attire for the sea as ‘A gown of white French cambric, or pale pink muslin, with long sleeves, and antique cuffs of thin white muslin worn over trousers of white French cambric, which are trimmed the same as the bottom of the dress. A figured short scarf or pale buff, with deep pale-green border, and rich silk tassels; with gloves of pale buff kid; and sandals of pale yellow, or white Morocco, complete this truly simple but becoming dress’.

The first modern bikini did not appear until the 1930s and this featured a high-waist bottom, and from the 1960s onwards, the size of the bikini shrunk until the 1980s introduced the thong.

 

Men’s Swimwear

Men’s swimwear has been on an extreme journey similar to women’s swimwear. Now, the swimwear provides performance, durability and style all in one. While originally men swum naked, different cultures suggested different standards of appropriate swimwear. In the 1880s, men’s swimwear was rather shabby, mimicking traditional undergarments. These were also made of cotton or knitted wool, but this led to them absorbing water extremely easily, while also making it difficult for the wearer to actually swim in them, and bathers were vulnerable. In 1910, most male swimmers tend to don tank suits in the water, similar to the wetsuits available online, and these covered all the way down to the elbow and below the knees. However, the Machine Age led to more sports swimwear, and men’s bathing costumes led to flannel knee-length pants together with a vest – the predecessor to the traditional swimming shorts now seen in men’s fashion.