Bathing Suits of the ’50s

Swimsuits from the 1950s were incredible. Continuing the trend established in the early 20th century, more skin was displayed near the water than ever before.

These swimsuits followed the popular silhouette of the day and the fashionable shape of the body as seen above — an hourglass shape.* They mimicked undergarments from the time (like bras, waist cinches, and girdles), molding the body with bra cups, boning, control panels, and stretch fabric.

Because these bathing suits had a foundation of their own, they could be worn with or without straps.

The cut of the suit was straight across the top of the thigh creating a modesty apron. That modesty apron hid the fabric that covered the privates. Some suits had bottoms shaped liked shorts, skirts, and/or bloomers.

Two-piece suits were worn mostly by actresses or other celebrities. Few common women in the United States were willing to wear something so risqué in the 1950s.

The most common fabrics used in bathing suits were cotton, nylon, and Lastex, which is a trademarked name “used for an elastic yarn consisting of a core of latex thread wound with threads of cotton, rayon, nylon, or silk and used to give a one-way or two-way stretch to fabrics and garments.”

photo of women from Edina, MN, c. 1950s from Edina Historical Society

As a personal preference I wish I could find bathing suits just like the ones from the 1950s. I know that there are contemporary labels that make vintage-style 1950s suits, but they aren’t quite the same. The cut of the leg of the reproduction suits would have been considered high back then. I’ve never seen a recreation that incorporates boning or other foundational shaping used back then. Unfortunately everything relies solely on stretch fabrics today.

*The desired hourglass shape was created by restrictive undergarments that hadn’t been worn since before the 1920s.


  1. Carrie says:

    Man, these are gorgeous! I wonder if they were comfortable or if you could swim in them? I definitely love the look.

    • jacqueline says:

      Ah, well you’ve caught me using bathing suits and swimsuits somewhat interchangeably, which is somewhat misleading.

      Most of what I’m talking about in this post is bathing suits, garments intended for beach or pool going. They are stylish and fashionable, not functional. I’m sure a woman could wade in the water, float, and generally splash about in the water.

      But swimming laps would have required a different kind of garment that has less to do with fashion and more to do with function. Those swimsuits would not have included the foundational support that mimics undergarments of the era.

  2. Xixia says:

    Wow, this is an amazing collection of images. I loved looking at them all! The bathing suits from back in the day are all so colorful and cute, not to mention somewhat modest. I think I like that most of all. ^^
    ♥ xixia

  3. Wallace says:

    Back in the 50`s my mom and sisters and friends always wore their Playtex rubber panty girdle under their swimsuits..their shape was excuisit; women today don`t care how they look in swimsuits; a day at the beach lays proof to my claim!

  4. Ana says:

    They are all oh-so-fabulous.

    I’d love to have the one worn by Tippi Hedren in that Maurice Handler Original ad, 1954… and to have the hairstyle of her friend on the left 😀 .

  5. I love these suits, I had an idea of making my own swimsuit because I could not find a swimsuit that looked similar.

    Thanks for this post, it has been inspirational!

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