1950s Swimsuits: What’s Changed and Why?

Remember those swimsuits that were high-waisted and had ruffles and polka dots galore? We’re talking about those beloved 1950s swimsuits! Today, we’re going to take a look into those suits and what’s changed in swimwear since then. Don’t get us wrong; we love a lot of the styles that came from 1950s swimwear, but we’re also obsessed with some of the changes, too.

Just like our favorite one-pieces with square necklines and floral prints, swimwear has changed quite a bit since the 1950s modest, bombshell styles. Speaking of bombshell styles, that’s just part of what we love about swimsuits from the 50s.

Let’s jump right into the history behind 1950s swimsuits and what was major about them.

The History of 1950s Swimsuits

There’s a lot to say about those cute swimsuits from the 1950s, from their flattering waist-defining structures to their fun colors and details. These styles were so popular that we still see a lot of them today, especially within the vintage-wear world. As we enter summer and swimsuit season, let’s look at these bathing suits and how they shaped today’s styles.

Shopping for swimsuits in the 1950s was similar to shopping for them today. You could find styles in catalogs such as Sears and Montgomery Ward, and you could also find plus sizes within Lane Bryant’s selection.

The 1950s were vital in the improvement of bathing suit fabrics and fits. This is when stretch was added to suits with nylon and elastic, which made them much more wearable for what they were made for.

As far as style, swimwear in the 1950s aimed to flatter a woman’s curves while hiding any imperfections. Swimsuits in the 50s were seen as fitted one-piece swimsuits, as well as bra tops paired with bottoms that added even more shape. Even though the fabric was improved for summer fun, wearing these suits was a lot about the look itself.

The colors and patterns of these swimsuits were usually bold reds, pinks, whites, and blacks. You could find trending patterns like plaid, gingham, polka dots, and tropical prints that kept things fresh and different from previous patterns.

1950s Swimsuit Styles

We touched on some of the swimsuit styles during this time, but there are a couple of others that we wanted to mention. Some of these styles we still love and wear today, so we wanted to give them the recognition they deserve!

Here are some swimsuit styles from the 50s that were, and in some cases still are, fashionable and popular.

The Princess Bathing Suit

This style has a sweetheart neckline and a long, tight-fitting skirt attached to the bottoms. The princess bathing suit was worn to accentuate the womanly figure and was complete with removable straps for swimming and sunbathing.

Princess-style bathing suits often had ruching around the bodice, which helped flatter and camouflage the tummy area.

The Bubble Swimsuit

These swimsuits had a similar pencil skirt style to the one above, except the design was a bit more puffy than skintight. This swimsuit style evolved into ones that involved bloomer-style bottoms, which could give the illusion of curvier hips.

1950s Style Swim Dresses

That’s right; swim dresses were popular in the 1950s just like they are today. This style was great for flattering figures that had bigger hips but wanted to tone it down and create a balanced look. Swim dresses in the 50s had ruching ruffles to draw the eye to certain areas and add detail.

1950s Swim Caps

Have you ever worn a swim cap? If you’ve worn one recently, you probably had a very different experience than what was worn in the 1950s. During that time, they were called bathing hair caps and were worn to make sure the hair was never ruined by the water. After all, hairstyles were coveted and perfected.

Swim caps were covered in plastic flowers, spikes, and other unique styles, so they became as much of an accessory as they were a necessity to protect hairstyles. In fact, the styles of floral-covered caps turned into hats that were worn outside of water activities.

1950s Cover-Ups

Just like we need to wear cover-ups today to protect ourselves from harsh UV rays, they were essential in the 50s as well. During this time, swimsuit cover-ups and dresses were made to match whatever bathing suit you wore. While they may not have been the exact same pattern, you could be sure that the color and style matched nicely.

These cotton swim jackets and robes were worn just how we wear them today in order to keep a sense of modesty and coverage and protect the skin from the sun. Fashion and style were important to most, so you could also find shorter swim jackets that acted more as a statement than a practical cover-up.

As you can tell, cover-ups have changed quite a bit since then. Today, we love our super lightweight, breezy shawls and kimonos.

Styles From the 1950s That We Incorporate Today

Now that we’ve reminded ourselves what the swimsuit styles of the 1950s looked like, it would be silly not to note what kinds of styles were carried into today’s fashion world. You’ve probably seen or even worn swimsuits that are very similar to the styles worn in those years. Think high-waisted bottoms, swim dresses cut below the hips, and swimsuit tops with ruffles.

Not every style was carried on to today, but there are some that we’re still happy to wear. The styles of the 50s were flattering to a woman’s shape, and who wouldn’t love that? These days, it’s not rare to find a pair of high-waisted swimsuit bottoms that are cinched at the waist to create an hourglass shape.

You can also find many swimsuits that have ruching throughout the torso. Ruching is great for hiding any lumps and bumps you may be a little more self-conscious about. Even if you opt for a two-piece suit, it’s easy to find a pair of bottoms with ruching as well.

Here at Maxine, we’re glad that some of the styles of patterns have made their way into today’s swimsuits, too. We’re big fans of vivid florals and fun tropical prints to liven things up.

What’s Changed With Swimsuits?

There’s never anything wrong with style changes, upgrades, and a refresh in general. After all, fashion should be fun no matter where you’re sporting it, and swimsuits are a great way to express your style at the beach or the pool.

Swimsuits today are built to be breathable, comfortable to lounge and swim in, and are made for function. In the 1950s, swimsuits were definitely designed more with style in mind rather than playing beach volleyball or going for a long swim.

Not only has the level of practicality increased, but some styles have also morphed into more up-to-date looks that we still think are timeless. We’ve put together a few of our current favorite styles that you’ll love that still have elements of femininity and structure while being comfortable and ready for anything.

  • Palms and Fronds One Piece: This new addition to our collection is beautifully patterned with bright tropical leaves on a black background, and also has incredible ruching that is flattering on anybody. Not only that, but the style of straps and leg cut is great for keeping active.
  • Hana Hibiscus Faux Tankini: We love this suit for its modern cut and fun pink and blue floral pattern. You’ll feel breezy in this faux tankini with its adjustable straps and built-in tummy control.
  • Dandelion Fields Blouson Tankini: Another fresh take on a classic tankini, this suit is flirty and comfortable both for taking a dip or lounging in the sun. The loose blouson top is modest and has an added side tie for detail.

New Styles for Everybody

Finally, we want to note how incredible it is to offer so many new styles in such a large range of sizes. While you could find swimsuits in extended sizes in the 1950s, the options were definitely slim. We’re happy to note that today, you can find a wide variety of sizes that are sure to fit and flatter your beautiful figure.

What’s Old Is New Again

We’re thankful for a lot of styles from the 1950s that have stuck around to make us feel like the bombshells that we are, but we’re also glad to have the ability to change things up and make swimsuits even more practical and comfortable.

Grab a suit that refreshes your summer style this year, and don’t forget the sunblock!


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