Polka dots, maillot and Bond girls: The evolution of swimsuits in America

It's just a stretchy piece of fabric. But the swimsuit and its evolution from modest bathing dress to barely there thongs is the story of our changing body shapes and how we feel about the way we look. As part of "Love Your Selfie, Reclaiming Beauty," we look at the history of swimwear in America. 

  • Slideshow Photos

    Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix

    Jill Ireland

    The evolution of the swimsuit

    See some of the famous bathing suit styles from years past.

  • Jill Ireland

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    Itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini -

    Perhaps the most famous bathing suit in history. The yellow polka dot bikini was celebrated in the 1960 song that tells the story of a shy girl who wore the revealing suit at the beach "for the first time today."

    From bloomers to bikins, see the evolution of bathing suits.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Fancy A Dip?

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    On the beach -

    A woman in a bathing suit and a swim instructor lay close to the surf on Midland Beach, Staten Island, New York in 1898. Swimsuits for women in the late Victorian era were were basically knee-length dresses with stockings, often in a sailor style and made of wool. Men's suits covered their chests and left most anatomical details to the imagination.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Four Women In 1910 Beach Wear

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    Bathing beauties -

    Four young women in matching beach wear run out of the surf in Los Angeles, California in 1910. By the early 20th century women still wore knickers under their bathing suits, but revealed a little more leg.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Prize winners -

    The first "Bathing Suit Day" was held on May 16, 1916 at Madison Square Garden. From there, the bathing beauty was born. Women's swim suits became more revealing, the cuts were more fitted and more skin was exposed. Seen here are two women in bathing suits with prize cups in 1922.

    Library of Congress / Library of Congress
  • Beach Censor

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    Dare to bare -

    'Smokey' Buchanan from the West Palm Beach police force measures the bathing suit of Betty Fringle on Palm Beach, to ensure that it conforms with regulations introduced by the beach censors in 1925.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Leap-Frog Beach

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    Fun on the beach -

    Leap-frogging on a Californian beach 1930. Men and women's suits were similar in shape and cut in the 1930s.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Swimwear

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    Striking a post, Depression style -

    A model in a Jantzen swimsuit with a tie belt in 1933. By the mid-1930s, women began to wear swimsuits made of stretchy elastic material similar to girdles. And with that stretch, the bathing suits got smaller, more like a boy cut showing the full leg and back.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Jantzen Swimwear

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    Swimming buddies -

    Male models in 'Y-Back' swimsuits by Jantzen. Men's chests were still covered in the 1930s (no navels!) but they were wearing shorter trunks. Here one man is modelling 'Racaire' without skirt and the other, 'Speedaire' with skirt in 1933.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Judith Barrett

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    Family swim -

    Judith Barrett, the Hollywood actress, seen here on a beach with Joseph Allen Jr. and the two child actors Billy Lee and Carolyn Lee in 1942.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • PREMIER BIKINI A LA PISCINE MOLITOR 1946

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    Ooh la la! -

    Micha Le Bernardini shows off the first bikini, created by the fashion designer Louis Reard in 1946. The bikini was named for the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific where the atomic bomb had been tested.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Betty Grable, Pin-Up Girl

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    The million dollar swimsuit -

    Actress Betty Grable stands in high heels and a one-piece bathing suit in 1943. Throughout her career, Grable was celebrated for having the most beautiful legs in Hollywood. This iconic bathing suit poster made her the number one pin-up girl of World War II, surpassing Rita Hayworth. Her legs were famously insured for a million dollars.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Bathing Suit

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    Marvelous maillot -

    A woman models a patterned swimming costume, cut low on the leg in1948.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Couple In Matching Attire

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    You, Jane? -

    A young man and woman display the latest in swim wear with matching zebra print bathing suits in1950. swimsuits were more streamlined. Women began to show more midriff. Men ditched the tops -- male nipples were OK, but but navels were still off limits.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Woman sitting near shore

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    Mad for midriffs -

    A woman sits near shore in the 1950's. A popular style of swimwear in the 1950s resembled shiny undergarments.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Marilyn In Spots

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    Marilyn in polka dots -

    Actress Marilyn Monroe wears a polka dot bikini in 1951.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Jayne Mansfield In Bikini

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    Mighty Mansfield -

    American film actor and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield poses in a bikini by a lifeguard chair at the Dunes Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, mid 1950's.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • DR. NO, Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, 1962.

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    Ultimate Bond girl -

    The legendary white bikini worn by Ursula Andress in "Dr. No" (1962).

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Sixties Bikini

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    How to stuff a wild bikini -

    A young woman models a bikini in 1967.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • 10, Bo Derek 1979

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    Perfect 10 -

    When Bo Derek ran along the beach in slow motion in the 1982 movie "10" she proved that a swimsuit doesn't need to be skimpy to cause a sensation.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Sexy Swimsuits of the 1980s

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    Yee, haa -

    A model wears a western-style bathing suit by designer Catalina in this 1980 Los Angeles, Calif. What can we say, it was the 80s.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    A life-saving swimsuit -

    Pamela Anderson in the iconic "Baywatch" red swimsuit, 1995.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • 2006 Cannes Film Festival - Borat Arrives in Cannes

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    Borat's mankini -

    Sacha Baron Cohen as "Borat" during 2006 Cannes Film Festival. The thong swimsuit did not catch on at public beaches. Something we should be grateful for.

    WireImage / WireImage
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    Best of both worlds -

    A woman shows off a Panache Loren tankini in 2010. The tankini, or tanqueray, is a combination of tank top and bikini. They became popular in the late 1990s.

    AP / AP
  • Special Collection Bjoern Dunkerbeck by Camp David Presentation

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    The anti-Speedo -

    Board shorts and surf trunks arrived in the 1970s, but really took off in the 1990s with the popularity of skater punk fashion.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • FASHION-BRAZIL-SAO PAULO FASHION WEEK-MOVIMENTO

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    A new shape -

    A model presents a creation by Movimento during the 2015 Summer collections of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Imagine the tan lines.

    AFP/Getty Images / AFP/Getty Images


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