Team Swim Suit History


Take a dip into the colorful history of swim suits, and what you'll find is that swimsuits have a long and curiously spotted history. In the wake of struggling to strike a balance between functionality and modesty, the world of recreational and competition swim suits' only task now is to stay in keeping with the ever-evolving fashion trends. And the growing demands of better, more cutting edge designs that push swimmers to the outer limits of their sport.

This swim suit history piece will cover three key areas (no pun intended!). They are:

Ancient swim suit history - from birthday suit to swimsuit

Recorded swim suit history begins around 1400 BC in ancient Greece and Rome. Bathing nude was the norm in many places, and the women of antiquity were known to wear two-piece swimsuits much like the bikinis worn today. Early European mosaics and other art depict various women wearing bikini-like suits for both bathing and sports.

The fall of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages dampened attitudes about public bathing and the wearing of scant swimwear for morality and sanitary reasons. Up until then, the Roman emperor controlled the church. Polytheism, or the worship of multiple deities, was generally accepted in Rome under the empirical government. So there were no strict moral or religious boundaries prohibiting public nudity. As monotheistic beliefs began to spread around Europe in the Middle Ages, what was commonplace, public bathing, nude or not, was now thought to be not only immoral, but unsanitary. Many people refused to participate in such "cult-like" activities. Scant swimsuits disappeared from sight.

Modern swim suit history

Only in the last couple hundred years were swimsuits to be seen again in the western world. They found their place in spas and resorts throughout Europe. The earliest "modern" suits were very modest. They revealed little skin, and were made from heavy, scratchy wool! In fact, the first swim suits were entirely woolen. A typical wet woolen suit weighed about nine pounds! And the times were so modest that even the men had to cover their chests and upper arms.

So it's easy to see why the simple birthday suit may have been the most popular thing to bathe in prior to the mid-1900s. If not in the nude, women in the 1850s bathed in bloomers, blacks socks, and "drawers". As you can imagine, swimming competitively in heavy material was not only impractical, it was just about impossible!

As public swimming became more commonplace, heavy wool swimsuits were replaced by functional, lighter swim apparel. But decency was still a concern. In the first couple decades, people wore mainly black swimsuits (for modesty reasons, of course) but were designed a little more snugly than their predecessors.

What could be rightfully called "swimwear" was introduced into the US around the early twentieth century. In 1913, sweater manufacturer Jantzen Knitting Mills went from making wool sweaters and hosiery to swim suits when a member of the Portland Rowing Club requested a pair of rowing trunks, according to Oregon History Project. It was a hit, and requests began pouring in from other rowing teams. The company manufactured the very first actual "swim suits".

The 1920s marked a huge turning point in the course of swim suit history. Designers experimented with newer, lighter fabrics, and created styles that bared a little more skin. Suits for women were typically skirts with lowered necklines and bare shoulders. Eventually, women joined the men in wearing sleeveless tank suits. Swim suits consisted of tank tops and shorts, bathing socks, and bathing caps for the women.

The Bikini

Early depictions of bikini-like swimwear are more than 400 years old! Two-piece sportswear, once worn by the Greeks and Romans, was reinvented in 1946 and called the "bikini". A pair of Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, came up with the first bikini, dubbed the "Atome" - French for atom. The new reinvention came to be known as the "world's smallest swimsuit". The hot new trend, originally called "Bikini Atoll", was named after an atom bomb testing site in the Marshall Islands.

Throughout the following decade, designers played around with fabrics and prints. Animal prints were popular, as were glamor suits, during the Eisenhower years. Vacationing to various spas and resorts inspired new and trendier swimsuits and accessories, such as sunglasses and beach bags. Designers dipped into fresher, sleeker swimsuit looks. One fabric that forever changed the bikini was spandex. Now the bikini is form-fitting and sleek, easy-drying, and lightweight. Other than the skin itself, nothing fit the body better than spandex.

Modesty versus a hot new trend

The 1960s marked a time when designers pushed the envelope on what they could get by with, paring back bikini fabric, even going so far as to creating the "monokini", or only the bottoms. At a time when social freedoms swept the nation, a large part of conservative America still held to the ideals of decency and modesty. The bikini was scandalous. It created quite a stir, often culminating in violence. Women were being arrested on public beaches for indecent exposure.

Men's swim suit history

Men's swim trunks date to about the 1900s. Before that, mens and women's swim suits looked very much alike. The only rule was, modesty first. Both sported tops and bottoms. Men's bottoms extended to the knee, and they wore tops that even covered the arms. The trunks were bulky and heavy, tended to fall down, and were neither functional nor fashionable. Like the women, the men had to abide by modesty standards up until 1932, when the first chest-baring suit for men was introduced. It consisted of swim trunks with a detachable bottom. Up until then, a man could have been arrested for sporting a topless trunk in public. By the 1940s, trunks shrunk and fit a little like a girdle.

The Speedo-style of men's suit was introduced in the 1940 and 50s. Today, like women, men have many choices of swimsuit style and length. Baggy, knee-length surfer trunks have become popular for their coverage and comfort. Tight-fitting speedo-style suits are worn by swim racers because of their "second-skin" feel, and ability to cut through the water.

Team swim suits

As the sport of swim gained acceptance in the 1920s, the competition swim suit industry took off. As did more liberal attitudes about public bathing. These two things played a huge role in the development of swimwear. Competitive swimmers now demanded a more lightweight, secure-fitting swimsuit with the least resistance to water. This was the task of manufacturers. Suits not only had to fit and perform well, they had to balance modesty with fashion trends.

Jantzen was already producing swimsuits at the time. The company added elastic strands to the fabrics, and their swimsuits now had twice the stretch of jersey and fit nice and snug.

It was a bit of a challenge for competitive swimmers to find modest suits that let them to swim their best. In the 1930s, an Olympic swimmer introduced the first topless team swimwear for men. Prior to the second world war, Speedo had introduced a line of two-peice swimwear for women, but it wasn't considered decent and was banned in Australia.

Team swim suit history would be incomplete without mentioning Speedo's contribution. In the early decades, manufacturers of Speedo undergarments, sold under the label 'Fortitude', went from making underwear to swimsuits to meet the growing demands of beach wear in Australia. The company's first milestone was its release of the Racerback suit in 1928, that allowed swimmers more speed and flexibility. Speedo earned its place among top swimmers around the world.

Spandex was introduced in the '50s and became the favored fabric for creating snug-fitting, streamlined swimsuits. Speedo began making suits using technologically advanced materials most like the skins of sharks and dolphins, such as Fastskin. There was no turning back. Cutting-edge swimsuits had arrived.

Today, team swim suits for men and women come in a host of styles, from the basic brief, to full body. Serious swim athletes often opt for full body swimwear to utilize its slick, streamlined features.


Swim suit history kicks back to ancient Greece and Rome. Public bathing disappeared around the Middle Ages with the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. Swim suits resurfaced in European culture, and were introduced into the US only a couple hundred years ago. Swim suit designs followed the flow of ever-changing standards of public bathing and modesty. As swimming gained more acceptance as a sport, manufacturers were tasked with constructing premium suits that performed well, were fashionable, and met standards of decency. Not all suits succeeded.

With the introduction of elastic and more skin-like materials, the swim competition suit took off, as did the Olympic swim athletes wearing them. Olympics swim records were broken like never before. Fashion met functionality, and swimsuits became both stylish and practical. Bikinis, lost for centuries, met their match - the fashion industry after World War II, and became a hot item in the '60s.

Thanks to newer, ever-evolving technologies and swimsuit designs, today's swim athletes are able to push their potential to the outer limits. From all the broken swim records in recent decades, it appears as if there's no slowing them down. Have team swim suits reached perfection? As with any evolving science or sport, it's not likely.

Swim suit history - A time line of swimwear:

1855Ladies' swimwear consisted of long dresses, bloomers, and black stockings.
1915The sleeveless "tank suit" was born. Women were no longer confined to wearing black.
1920sSwimming became more accepted as a sport; suits were designed to accommodate the swim athletes. Necklines of casual swimwear was lowered. Jantzen added an elastic stitch to their line of swimwear.
1920s-30sSpeedo introduced the classic Racerback style, allowing a better range of movement. Olympic swim athlete Johnny Weismuller teamed with BVD (men's underwear brand) to introduce the first topless swimwear for men.
1940sPost World War II demands for swimsuits influenced the development of the still controversial, and in some places still banned, bikini, reinvented by a pair of Frenchmen by the names of Jacques Heim, and Louis Reard (1946).
1990sNew technologies launched swimsuits with less drag, better surface resistance, and more resistance to chlorine. The new revolutionary Fastskin, a sharkskin-based swimsuit, was created. Carol Wior patented the "slimsuit" for women, aimed at taking a few inches off the waistline and stomach.
2004The new improved Fastskin FSII further reduced drag by up to 4 percent.
2004/05Speedo collaborated with international fashion labels to create more stylish swimwear.
2007The new Fastskin FS-PRO surpasses its predecessor in performance capabilities.
2008The LZR Racer swimsuit was released.

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