There’s little that’s more adorable than a tiny girl toddling around a pool wearing a brightly colored two-piece bathing suit. I, similarly clad, followed close on the heels of mine with her water wings. Her brother and Dad, wearing that year’s version of fashionable swim trunks, watched in amusement. Why do we love swim costumes so much? How did they become part of our lives?
How Did Swimsuits Begin?
Swimming is millions of years old. Clay tablets in addition to cave and other wall art illustrate the ancients in Egypt and Babylon right up to the Roman Empire swimming and playing on beaches. Keep in mind that their corner of the earth was hot, so they needed some release from the weather.
What they wore is another story. Men tended to wear brief shorts if they wore anything at all. Women enjoyed the water in groups completely separate from men. They wore then-fashionable coverings generally from nose to toes. Only in Roman times did women, and men for that matter, enjoy bathing in bathhouses in the nude.
Biblical times saw their share of men and women swimming, for example, as described in Isaiah 25:11. The book doesn’t mention cladding, but considering the modesty and integrity of its people, swimming attire is pretty much a given.
The Middle Ages
It’s only as we get up to the 1800s that we begin to see formal swimming attire emerge into the mainstream of life. Following ancient times, the idea of water for fun or even for hygiene fell by the wayside. The Middle Ages saw a resurgence of bathing for fun and for hygiene.
Men could bathe in widely separate areas as bare as the day they were born. Women, for the sake of modesty, must wear heavy fabrics designed to stand out from the body. Weights were attached to the bottom of the fabric to prevent the costume from riding up in the water. As you can imagine, little swimming was accomplished, although some cleanliness resulted.
In modern times, swimming was separate from bathing. The proper togs were necessary to preserve modesty. Ladies enjoyed shorter dresses. They even had bloomer-type bottoms worn with a modest top. Men wore one-piece suits that covered their bodies to the knees. Some men wore two-piece swimsuits to the same effect.
By now, segregated beaches became the norm. Suits must be modest but still allow movement. Swimming lessons were now available having been offered in Europe to some success.
Today’s swimming attire manufacturers vie with each other for fashion points using the newest textile innovations and design. Men’s swim trunks haven’t changed much over the years, but ladies’ swimsuits offer variety and style. What kind of innovations has been seen in men’s and women’s swimsuits over the years?
Different Types Of Swimsuits For Men And Women
Men have less to cover, so by necessity their swim pants don’t enjoy a great deal of innovation. Still, there are many styles to be considered.
Board shorts resemble Bermuda shorts. They fit at the waist, loose at the hips, and come down to the knees. Made of nylon or polyester, they dry quickly and are waterproof. While board shorts aren’t usually worn with anything underneath, some wearers prefer extra support. They wear traditional swim trunks or boxer shorts beneath the board shorts.
The advantages of wearing board shorts to swim include extra protection from the heat of the sun as well as segueing from hiking, biking, or other land enjoyments into swimming or sunbathing. It might be uncomfortable for wearers when their board shorts are dry before their boxers are. Board shorts can be bought at any department store and online at Lands, End, for example.
Speedos were originally designed for biking so that the pants weren’t caught in the chain of the bike. They were so popular, that men began wearing them for swimming and other sports. Speedos began to be made into bikini cuts, brief cuts, and knee cuts.
The short is made mainly of nylon and spandex although other materials can be and are used in their manufacture. In 1994, the short began to be made from Endurance, a textile resistant to chlorine.
Swimming requires a range of motion and speed. Speedos are acclimated to this, as they fit tightly to the waist and hips. That tightness is one of the disadvantages of using Speedos to swim as it takes time to get comfortable in them. Another would be the lack of modesty inherent in the short; some guys don’t want accidents to happen when wearing the short. Speedos can be bought anywhere swimwear is sold as well as online from speedo.com.
Call them to swim trunks or boxer shorts, this swimsuit is the most popular of all men’s style swimsuits. They fit at the waist and fall loosely to hips and mid-thigh. They have a netting pair of briefs inside the shorts. Both dry quickly for those who exit the water for other activities.
Swim shorts go everywhere and do everything which is men’s favorite pro about the shorts. The major con of swim shorts is that they provide drag in the water which is death for competitive swimmers or lap swimmers. Swim trunks are made of polyester and can be bought at any department store and online at any sports store.
Fitting tightly at the waist, hips, and leg openings, these briefs more closely resemble ladies’ hip-hugger or bikini underwear. Made of nylon and spandex, these briefs are lined as well with the same textile. As they are form-fitting, they allow swimmers to cut through the water with no drag. The only con to the briefs is that they are form-fitting, and any accidents will be quite obvious and could overflow the brief. These swim briefs can be bought online as well as wherever swim attire for men is sold.
Women have more body to cover at the swimming pool, so the styles of their swimwear show it.
A strapless band around the chest, bandeau swim tops only cover the breasts. They allow women to get a tan without tan lines. They aren’t well supported, though, so they’re only meant for perhaps sizes 32 to 36 and A to B cups. Most women’s swimwear is made of nylon and spandex and can be bought at department stores and online.
This kind of swimsuit top resembles a bra in that the straps go over the shoulders like a bra. Some styles resemble underwire bras that push the breasts up while others resemble sports bras with thicker straps. Some bras can have their straps removed to become a bandeau while others can use their straps as halter ties. The variety is endless. Women love this style of tops. The only real con is tan lines. These tops can be found in any department store or online.
This top is ideal for the woman who wants to go somewhere after visiting the pool. Resembling a woman’s blouse, this top can have sleeves, be bra-less, and come down to either the midriff or a woman’s waist. Since pretty much all women’s swim attire is made of nylon and spandex, it won’t be mentioned again. These cute tops can be found at any department store and online.
Bacteria infecting swimmers is the most important reason to clean a pool. However, stuff happens, so apparel was made for those wishing to avoid infection at the pool. Crew tops look like any T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt with the exception that they’re made of nylon and spandex rather than cotton or a polyester blend. They make the perfect rash guard and enjoy the added purpose of protecting the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Crew tops may be purchased from any department store and online.
Pads And Shelf Bras
Some women prefer a little more substance to their bathing suit tops. Pads that fit into pockets in the tops were invented for this reason. Tops with shelf bras are also available for women who don’t want to bother with bras at all much less in their swimsuits. Underwire tops are also available. These, too, may be found in any department store and online.
For the modest woman, bottoms are made that cover the behind and hips up to the waist. They’re still made to slice through the water, though. These swim bottoms can be bought online or at department stores.
Classic Bikini Bottom
This bottom sits square on the hip just above the private parts. Some come with ties at the sides. Others are solid pieces. Many fit a tad higher than the hip. Some are as brief as possible without loss of modesty. Others ride high on the hip and are called high-cut. Some show off the cheeks while others just cover them. Whatever your preference, the bottoms can be purchased online or at department stores.
Some ladies like to be as natural as possible while simultaneously avoiding jail time for indecent exposure. However, beaches and swimming pools are about fun in the sun. The less worn the better. Thongs were designed for the free-spirited woman. They provide full coverage in the front, rise to the hips, but they show very little material in the back. There, the piece disappears between the cheeks to re-emerge in the front. Great for tanning. Buy them at department stores and online.
The perfect blend of the one-piece and two-piece swim costume, this suit might have a bandeau top and a full coverage bottom joined by a band or tie at the neck. Some of these suits only cover the necessities while sporting pieces of fabric in various places. Some are cut high on the hips while using a thong to cover the back. A few simply incorporate strips of textile to cover the necessaries and that’s it. However it’s built, it can be bought anywhere swimsuits are sold and online.
The Classic One-Piece
A solid swath of material with straps over the shoulders covers a woman from bust to butt. Some tie at the neck like a halter. Some are strapless and can be called bandeaux. Some are cut high on the hip while others have sleeves and come up to the neck. Some one-piece suits only cover the necessaries while others resemble the 1800s men’s one-piece suits. However you like your coverage, one-pieces can be bought anywhere and online.
We’ve all seen pictures and movies of deep-sea divers. They wear long-sleeved long pants neoprene wet suits. Some wear the long-sleeved but short pants wet suits. This women’s swimsuit isn’t made of neoprene, but it’s cut like a wetsuit. It sports a boy-cut bottom that doesn’t reach mid-thigh and comes with long sleeves. Ideal for water skiing, diving, surfing, and other water sports. You might look for this suit at a sporting goods store or online.
Swim dresses were designed to cover the female form more modestly than one-piece women’s swimsuit. Many suits have skirts resembling a bit more than mini skirts. Some resemble a short-skirted dress complete with a blousy top. Many look like a tennis dress while others look like a top covering shorts. Swim dresses are made of the usual nylon and/or spandex like any other suit. They can be bought where other swimsuits can be purchased.
Many women thought this new innovation of the 90s had to do with tanning. Women were looking forward to a wonderful tan while wearing slightly more clothing. Unfortunately for tanning, the word combines the tank of tank tops with the bikini bottom. Meant as a mix and match item, the tankini provides women the modesty they want with the stylishness they crave. They’re made of the usual nylon and/or spandex, and can be purchased anywhere swimwear is on sale.
Features of Men’s And Ladies’ Swimsuits
Men rarely get innovations in their swimwear outside an extra pocket in which to forget their phone as it’s plunging into the waves. Women, on the other hand, enjoy many more innovations and features in their swimwear:
- feminine ruffles
- ties or metal rings in appropriate places on the suit
- incorporated bras
- the cut to make a woman resemble a 1940s pinup
- tummy control
and more are incorporated into some of the most eye-catching women’s’ swimwear examples every day.
Is Your Bathing Suit Chlorine Approved?
People in the throes of a sweltering summer don’t care if their swimsuit is made to withstand the vagaries of chlorine. They just want to fall into a cool pool or the waves kissing the beach. However, swimwear costs enough money that shoppers should check whether or not their favorite suit will hold its color and pattern in a chlorine-treated pool while using sunscreen against the UV rays as well as the salt in the ocean.
This textile doesn’t shrink or stretch and is resistant to chlorine. It’s made of strong yet soft fibers that resist UV rays.
Nylon doesn’t last as long as polyester and is not chlorine-resistant. It’s soft and pretty and doesn’t stretch, but if you’re looking for UV protection, nylon won’t do it for you.
This textile is added to nylon and polyester due to its stretch. It can be stretched to six times its original length and snap back into shape. Lycra is chlorine-resistant.
A polymer with extreme stretching power, this fabric is added to other fabrics to make form-fitting clothing. Because it’s form-fitting, spandex does well when incorporated into workout clothing. You see it at the gym every day. Spandex wicks away the sweat, leaving the exerciser to work out longer and more comfortably.
That’s what makes it so great for yoga pants as well as crop tops and tank tops. They double very well in both the gym and the swimming pool. However, chlorine eats away spandex and lycra on its own which is why no swimsuit is made exclusively of spandex or lycra. Combined in small amounts with other fabrics, though, spandex is chlorine-resistant.
Right now, you’re thinking “oh, lovely, now my swimsuit is going to disintegrate, leaving me embarrassed in water jazzercise class.” I know I would be thinking the same. All isn’t lost, though. All you have to do is seek out a women’s’ bathing suit made of polyester and PBT.
PBT or polybutylene terephthalate is a fiber mixed with other textiles to provide elasticity and strength. Both polyester and PBT are chlorine-resistant. Read all the labels on swimwear as you’re choosing. The less spandex and the more PBT the better.
Lots of ladies think that a polyester blend will look less attractive than its spandex sisters. Au contraire. Style, color, and pattern don’t just fall by the wayside; your new suit will sparkle at the beach not to mention lasting longer than other ladies’ swimwear.
What Should You Wear Under Board Shorts?
This comes down to personal preference. The purpose of wearing something beneath board shorts is for support. Thus, some board shorts come with polyester or mesh liners, eliminating the need for underpants. Other board shorts are just that: board shorts. Swimmers have the choice of wearing compression shorts or briefs beneath their board shorts, but this, too, is a matter of personal preference.
Have Tankinis Gone Out Of Style?
Short answer: no. Classy will always be in fashion. The classy, modest tankini has, however, made a comeback in 2020, according to Fashionista. This year’s styles apparently have brought back a nostalgic look at the early days of the tankini. They’ve been disappearing off the racks at an alarming rate.
What is the Best Swimsuit to Camouflage the Tummy?
Good Housekeeping provides a list of ladies swimsuits that hide that tummy:
Oceanus swimsuit. Available on Amazon. This suit has panels that look as if they wrap around the body thus minimizing the waist. Underwires uplift the breast.
Sanibel one-piece swimsuit. Available on Amazon. Ever wanted to look like Betty Grable or Lauren Bacall in a swimsuit? Now’s your chance. This flattering suit wraps around for a slimming look while the breast is uplifted beneath halter type straps.
Backless slimming monokini. Available on Amazon. A halter strap pulls the top around the neck, leaving a bit of space for the chest to catch some rays. What looks like a cummerbund wraps around the waist while the full coverage bottoms, well, cover. It does a colorful job of hiding that tummy.
How Does One Use The Bathroom In A One-Piece Suit?
Ladies only have two choices here: pull off the whole thing, or hold the crotch portion aside as you do your thing. Of course, ladies can’t do that if they have to number two, so pulling the whole thing off is the only option. As with what’s under men’s’ swimsuits, ladies must do what’s comfortable for them.
Why Are Swimsuits Called Bathing Suits?
From ancient history up to about the 1800s, women wore abbreviated costumes in which to not only bathe but play at the beach. Nudity was only accepted in bathhouses in Rome. The surrounding territories separated their women and men on beaches.
That’s how bathing machines were invented. Ladies entered a hut, changed into their bathing costume, opened the door on the other side of the hut, and was pulled into the water by a horse hitched to the whole shebang. Thus she wasn’t seen by anyone until she was safely in the water. There, women bathed at least twice a week. The costumes became “bathing suits.”
- Bellatory: Swimsuits: The History of Swimwear for Women
- Google Arts and Culture: The Radical History of the Swimsuit
- Kiefer: Choosing Swimsuit Fabric: An Ultimate Guide to Swimsuit Material
- Swim and Sweat: Why Chlorine Resistant Swimsuits are Essential for Water Fitness