30+ Vintage Bathing Suits That Show What People Actually Wore Back in the Day

This article appeared in Cleverclassic and has been published here with permission.

Vintage Bathing Suits

These days, swimsuits are all about showing as much skin as possible, so you can catch every last one of those sweet rays when you’re out on the beach. But the swimsuits of yesteryear featured a very different design. Modesty was the name of the game back then, and many swimsuits of the past incorporated fashion trends into their designs. In this list, we’re going to take a look at some vintage bathing suits that’ll make you want to go for a dip. Read on for the full scoop.

A Patriotic Day at the Beach

Here we see some vintage swimsuit designs that you may be more familiar with. While women were still strongly encouraged to cover up as much of their bodies as possible, they were still able to let some of their skin bask in the sunshine.

A Patriotic Day at the Beach

The popular swimsuits of this time often consisted of a top and matching pair of shorts or skorts and sometimes even included a belt.

Modest Muses

Here are two more swimsuit designs that you’re probably already familiar with. Stripes were all the rage when it came to bathing suits at this time, and while the picture is in black and white, they usually came in a range of bright colors.

Modest Muses

Red was a particular favorite and was generally easier to produce. Even at the beach, these ladies have their hair up – modesty above all else, after all.

Women’s Swim Team of Australia

Women participating in professional swimming wore swimsuits that were a little different from those available to the public, though modesty was certainly still the name of the game.

Women’s Swim Team of Australia

These suits were usually one-piece costumes that covered up a bikini set underneath. Judging by this picture, they weren’t the most comfortable things in the world to swim in.

Ready, Set, Swim!

Hair was, and still is, a big part of the fashion of the past, and most women wanted to ensure that their hair always looked as good and healthy as possible.

Ready, Set, Swim!

Saltwater can be pretty damaging to your hair, especially if you swim in the sea regularly, so to combat this, many ladies opted to wear swimming caps to protect their locks. Maybe not the most fashionable accessory these days, but back then, they were all the rage.

Buster Keaton and Girls

This picture showcases the variety that was present throughout women’s fashion of yesteryear, even when it came to something as simple as a swimsuit. Here we can see that, while the garments were often quite simple, they featured elements that made them ‘fashionable.’

Buster Keaton and Girls

Like belts, for instance, or being separated into two pieces that exposed some of the midriffs. Others were more simple, resembling a dress more than a swimsuit.

Enjoying the Pool

This photo serves as a great representation of how fluid fashion used to be. In those days, the designs for men’s and women’s swimsuits were often quite similar since men were expected to be just as modest and respectable as women.

Enjoying the Pool

So, they often wore one-piece swimsuits, similar to those worn by the ladies, that covered most of their bodies. However, they do look a little more comfortable.

The Tiller Girls Performing

One thing you may have noticed about the swimsuits worn these days that differs from those worn today is… the shoes! Shoes were considered an integral part of any swimming outfit, as they were designed to protect your feet.

The Tiller Girls Performing

In this image, we see the Tiller Girls all performing a routine in their swimsuits. Of course, each one is wearing a stylish pair of shoes and socks to complete the look.

Fashion for All Ages

Taken in 1895, this picture showcases the dramatic shift that fashion took at the start of the 20th century. Before then, women were expected to wear ‘swimming dresses’ to the seaside to preserve their modesty as much as possible

Fashion for All Ages

Almost every inch of skin was covered, so no tans for these ladies! Men were also expected to cover up quite a bit, though short-sleeve shorts were permitted.

Kids Being Kids

While the clothing required to be worn to the beach may not have been fun, that didn’t stop kids from having fun. These young people still knew how to enjoy themselves on the beach, even if their clothes were a little uncomfortable.

Kids Being Kids

Sun hats were gaining more popularity. We can also see that the sleeves became a little shorter – both for ladies and gentlemen.

A Little Makeup at Manhattan Beach

For a very long time, makeup was considered a crucial aspect of any woman’s outfit – no respectable lady would leave the house without at least applying some rouge to her cheeks. Thankfully, things are different these days. Makeup has become an optional accessory rather than an essential step in getting ready.

A Little Makeup at Manhattan Beach

The ladies in this picture (taken around 1930) can be seen touching up their faces while knee-deep in the waters of Manhattan.

Drying Off After a Day at the Beach

There’s probably no better feeling than finishing up a day at the beach and drying yourself off. Your body is tired, your mind is exhausted, and all you want to do is go home and sleep.

Drying Off After a Day at the Beach

Often, you’re left with a feeling of joy after basking in the sun for a few hours. Humans have enjoyed this tradition for hundreds of years. The English girls in this photo, which was taken around 1910, are proof of that.

Drip-Drying on the Pier

We’ve all done it. We’ve all forgotten to bring our towels to the beach or the pool; when that happens, you have no choice but to let yourself air dry. It’s not the most pleasant sensation in the world, but we do what needs to be done.

Drip-Drying on the Pier

These men from 1920 prove that humans have been forgetful for centuries, opting to drip-dry on the pier after a day of swimming. Their swimsuits are robe-like and protect their modesty and bodies from the sun.

Ready to Dive In

Here we have another picture from 1895 of a woman who seems to be getting ready to dive into the water. Her swimsuit is made up of a swimming dress, once again, meant to cover up her body while also flattering her body type as much as possible.

Ready to Dive In

She also has a beret on for good measure, protecting her hair from the sun. Stockings were, once again, a must to complete any swimsuit, as a lady couldn’t be seen showing too much skin in public!

An Australian Sunbather

Western fashion was quite a global phenomenon during the 20s-90s. Here we can see an Australian woman catching some rays in a swimsuit heavily inspired by the swimsuits worn by American women at the time.

An Australian Sunbather

She’s completed her look with a pair of sandals, and that’s about it! We can start to see how clothing would begin to focus less on modesty and more on aesthetics and comfort.

Together in the Californian Surf

Not all women wanted to wear swimming caps to protect their hair. After all, not all women would get their hair wet when they went to the beach anyway.

Together in the Californian Surf

So, some opted to put their hair into an updo and decorate it with a bow, usually in a color matching or complementing their swimsuit. These girls decided to go the extra mile and coordinate their beach outfits. Now that’s true friendship!

A French Family on the Rocks

Men’s swimsuit fashion was just as diverse as women’s, featuring a range of patterns, colors, and styles. A good portion of this variety is represented by this French family, who had their photo snapped around 1920.

A French Family on the Rocks

This picture shows a striped two-piece, a simple one-piece suit, and a comfortable jumper. They’re all wearing hats as well, more to protect their skin from the sun than to preserve the quality of their hair.

Sun Hat Showcase

We’ve already discussed sun hats a couple of times, but this picture captures just how popular they were back in the day. Sunhats were considered crucial for protecting one’s skin from harmful UV rays from the sun. But they were also often a key fashion accessory that women used to complete their outfits.

Sun Hat Showcase

In this incredible display of vintage swimsuit fashion, these ladies are seen boasting their unique sun hats, each complementing their outfits perfectly!

Leapfrog on the Pier

Go to any beach on a busy day, and you’ll no doubt find at least two people playing a game of leapfrog. It’s a classic activity that’s been used to pass the time for years. This photo from 1935 is proof of that. Aside from the perfectly-timed antics, these ladies are doing a fantastic job of showcasing the swimsuit fashions of the time.

Leapfrog on the Pier

Their looks are complete with a modest pair of heels that look like they can’t have been too comfortable to wear while walking around on the sand.

A Row of Beauty Contestants

Thankfully, times have changed since this photograph was snapped in 1935. These beauty contestants are weighing themselves in – being thin in those days was considered the key to being beautiful.

A Row of Beauty Contestants

Since then, we’ve drastically improved our perceptions of beauty, though we still have a long way to go. Once again, these ladies are all wearing a pair of heels, as was customary with all outfits back then.

Splashing in Massachusetts With Mom

If there was ever a vintage swimsuit photo that made us want to visit the beach immediately, it’s this one. Seeing the joy on this mother’s face as she enjoys some aquatic fun with her family is enough to make you want to dive into their nearest ocean.

Splashing in Massachusetts With Mom

Mom and daughter are wearing two hair accessories that were quite common for women of the time, while the son is letting his locks loose in the water.

Bicycle for Two on the Beach

There are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself when you’re at the beach that doesn’t involve getting soaked in saltwater. One of them is going for a bike ride. And what better way to enjoy a bike ride than with a friend?

Bicycle for Two on the Beach

These ladies decided to mosey their way around the beach on their bicycle for two, opting to bring a set of parasols with them to protect themselves from the sun. Fun!

A Beach Covered in Ice

This photo, taken around 1920, shows a group of friends enjoying some time on the frozen beach in Washington D.C., near the 14th Street Bridge. They prove that it doesn’t always have to be hot and sunny for you to enjoy some time at the beach.

A Beach Covered in Ice

In fact, even when it’s a day of frosty weather, the beach can be fun if you aren’t afraid to get a little cold. The woman holding the large chunk of ice is showcasing a less-common swimsuit, which is a full-length unitard.

Fossilizing a Friend on Coney Island

Burying your friend in the sand – or being buried in the sand – is a rite of passage when it comes to spending time on the beach. It’s one of those activities that you just have to do while you’re there, or else you haven’t fully experienced the seaside!

Fossilizing a Friend on Coney Island

This girl is completely covering her friend in the sand while she rests. We can’t imagine the other girl woke up feeling very comfortable, with sand all over her body.

Strike a Pose

These three ladies are posing for a Mack Sennet film in this photograph, which was taken in 1927. They’ve all donned their best swimwear, complete with a stylish pair of shoes.

Strike a Pose

Of course, since they’re on the set of a film, they’re all wearing full faces of makeup, which probably wasn’t the most comfortable experience in the hot sun! But, back then, beauty was pain, and they certainly looked very beautiful.

Swimming at Margate

Here we can see some swimwear fashion designed for children. In the case of small children, comfort was prioritized when creating garments, though aesthetics were still considered.

Swimming at Margate

The two young girls pictured here can be seen wearing typical children’s swimwear, which was usually a one-piece jumper with a ribbon at the waist to keep it secure. Of course, they’re wearing sun hats to avoid a nasty sunburn.

Young Flappers in Heels

These young women are showcasing typical beach fashion in this photograph, which was taken in 1923. But they’re also showing off some of the hairstyles that were popular at the time.

Young Flappers in Heels

Women who wanted short hair often opted for a trim bob, while longer hair was generally put into a neat, groomed-up hairdo to keep it out of the face. Medium-length hair was also kept out of the face and was usually curled to make it more fashionable.

Bathing Coat, Anyone?

As modesty was still quite an important part of women’s fashion, many ladies opted to cover up their bathing suits using bathing coats. These were always fashionable and sometimes made using silk.

Bathing Coat, Anyone?

Most bathing coats featured full capes and long sleeves and were typically worn to the beach, only to be taken off at the water’s edge. Once a woman was out of the water, the coat would be donned again.

An Elegant Display

After years of having clothing piled on in the water, women traded their longer swimsuits for more form-fitting ones that featured shorter skirts. Of course, these swimsuits couldn’t be too revealing, or a lady could suffer some serious consequences.

An Elegant Display

In fact, Annette Kellerman, a record-breaking Australian swimmer, was arrested on a Boston beach for indecent exposure because she had been wearing a knee-length swimsuit. Yikes!

Showing More Skin

Swimsuits started to become more practical as the years went on and, as a result, also showed off more of a woman’s body. Deep boat necks, or V-necks as we know them, became all the rage, and the armholes in swimsuits became larger and larger.

Showing More Skin

Swimsuits also came in brighter colors, featuring pretty accessories like belts. Swim caps were still commonly worn, and they were even fitted with chin straps to help them stay secure.

Rules and Regulations

While modesty was very slowly being phased out, women still had to be very careful to ensure that their swimsuits weren’t too revealing or short. Beaches had very particular regulations that strongly encouraged modesty.

Rules and Regulations

There were even special deputies or police officers on some beaches who’d patrol. Some would use a measuring tape to measure certain parts of a woman’s outfit, such as the distance between her knees and suit.

Simplicity Itself

Throughout the 20s and 30s, men wore swimsuits generally made up of a one-piece outfit resembling a tank top attached to shorts. Their design was very simple, commonly covered in thick, horizontal stripes.

Simplicity Itself

Color options were fairly limited, with most men’s swimsuits coming in colors like blue and white or red and tan. Not that they were complaining, of course – the men of these decades were far less concerned with fashion.

A Boat Ride for Four

In the 30s, women’s swimsuits began to resemble one-piece men’s swimsuits. They had higher cuts in the legs and showed off more of the woman’s back than they had in the past.

A Boat Ride for Four

We also started to see thin straps during this time, making them look more similar to the swimsuits worn on beaches today. The ladies on this boat wore suits that were made of lighter, more comfortable materials that had more flexibility to them.

A Swimming Dress

In the 40s, the one-piece women’s swimsuit would undergo another change, now resembling a short, form-fitting dress with thin straps and a V-neck. The top looked like a standard bra, while the skirt was long enough to cover a woman’s hips, backside, and upper thighs.

A Swimming Dress

You’ll also see a lot of halter tops during this decade, as it was one of the most popular swimsuit designs. This woman shows it off perfectly!

The Bikini Takes Off

Louis Read, a French designer, is credited for creating a daring two-piece swimsuit that would later be known as the first bikini, back in 1946. It slightly revealed a woman’s midsection and was made of shorts and a halter top.

The Bikini Takes Off

Bandeau tops with halter straps were quite popular in this decade as well. And these slightly revealing looks became quite popular in America during the 30s and 40s. To boost troop morale, perhaps?

Briefs!

The 40s were when men’s swimming briefs became popular. They were generally high in the waist and were cut quite short. Often made from wool, Spandex blend fabrics were used to make swimming briefs as well.

Briefs!

It was also during this decade that men’s swimming trunks, which were slightly longer and looser than briefs, became quite popular. However, they didn’t usually have fun prints as briefs did.

It’s Time for Color

Finally! A photograph that’s in color! While the one and two-piece suits still looked similar to the suits that were popular during the 40s, the materials that were used to create them were constantly changing in the 50s.

It’s Time for Color

Elastic and nylon were often used to make the suits stretchier, which also allowed the suits to dry faster. Prints became more exciting, and swimsuits became another avenue for women to express their fashion sense.

Form-Fitting Grows in Popularity

During the 60s, bikinis became smaller and tighter, and even the more modest one-piece suits became more revealing. In the middle of this decade, low-cut swimsuit bottoms were all the rage, and bikinis were still constantly growing in popularity.

Form-Fitting Grows in Popularity

These swimsuits were generally made using Nylon or Lycra, which made them tighter and more fitting to the body. They were similar to what we see today.

Good Riddance, Modesty

By the 70s, swimsuits were more revealing than they had ever been, allowing women and men to get tanned on the beach.

Good Riddance, Modesty

String bikinis, thongs, sheer suits, and cut-out swimsuits became wildly popular throughout this decade. It was a time of colorful swimsuits, as well.

Patterns, Patterns, Patterns

Women’s swimsuits were commonly covered in colorful patterns throughout this decade, and more excitingly, so were men’s swimsuits.

Patterns, Patterns, Patterns

The swimsuits worn by men were usually at a length that’s still popular today. Although back in the 70s, they were sometimes accented by fashionable belts. Let’s bring that back!

The Bold 80s

It should be no surprise that the 80s were bold in aesthetics. Loud animal prints and bright neon colors were trendy during this time. Plus, swimsuits started to feature scooped, low necklines with higher leg cuts.

The Bold 80s

This style was a far cry from some of the earlier decades. But it’s fascinating to see how swimsuits have evolved over the years! All we can say is that we don’t hate it!

A Dip in Boston, 1919

During the time that this photo was taken, showing too much skin in any public space would’ve been considered improper and rude, which is why most of the swimmers at this beach are wearing fairly full-coverage swimsuits.

A Dip in Boston, 1919

As you can see, the ladies are even wearing swimsuits that resemble dresses! At those times, clothing and fashion trends were at the forefront – just like today!

Ready to Fish

This vintage dame takes sun protection to a whole new level with this incredible sun hat, which seems to be larger than her torso.

Ready to Fish

But, it’s got a practical purpose – she’s about to set off on her own private fishing trip, and if you know anything about fishing, you know just how important it is to protect yourself from the sun. With that massive sun hat, she should have no problem avoiding a harsh sunburn!

Digging for Treasure

This photo, which was taken in 1915, is an excellent showcase of how intricate women’s fashion was at the time, even when it came to something so simple as a swimsuit. Here we see two young ladies wearing one-piece swimsuit dresses, with a pair of shorts and stockings underneath for maximum modesty.

Digging for Treasure

Shoes, of course, were a must, and we can only imagine how uncomfortable things would get when those shoes got wet.

Beauty Bathing Contest

Beauty was always the name of the game, no matter the occasion, and the beach was certainly no different. Here we see a group of young women lined up to participate in a swimsuit-based beauty contest!

Beauty Bathing Contest

They’ve all donned their best batching attire, complete with hats and shoes for most. The designs here favored form over function, and we can’t imagine that these swimsuits would be very comfortable to actually swim in.