Bathing Suits in the Fifties

Written by marianne moro
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Bathing Suits in the Fifties
One-piece swimsuits still reigned supreme on American beaches in the 1950s. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Fashion and pop culture changed rapidly in the 1950s with the advent of rock 'n' roll, juvenile delinquents in leather jackets and gum-chewing girls in poodle skirts. While swimwear of the '50s still remained conservative by modern standards, bright colours, patterns and a variety of new styles hit the beach. Most importantly, the bikini made its debut in Europe, and to a lesser extent, in America.

Corset-Style Bathing Suits

One-piece corset-style swimsuits zipped up the back and had built-in controls to enhance a woman's figure, such as moulded bra cups and stretch tummy-control panels. Corset swimwear was worn strapless or halter-style. Cut straight across the top of the thigh, the lower part of the corset swimsuit sometimes resembled an apron. The suits were sometimes made of a ruched, or waffled, nylon material. Most corset swimming costumes were solid colours, but paisley, striped and flowered prints were also popular.


Another version of the one-piece swimsuit, the playsuit usually sported detachable straps and leg openings similar to shorts or a one-piece gym uniform. Many designs could be worn strapless or tied at the back like a halter. Materials ranged from black lace to cotton plaid to soft wool knit fibre. Playsuits zipped up in the back, and were often lined with cotton. Leg openings could be shirred, puffy or elasticated.


Starlet Brigitte Bardot caused a scandal when she wore a bikini at the Cannes Film Festival in the early 1950s. European bikinis consisted of a moulded bandeau top and a brief length bottom 2 or 3 inches below the navel. American bikinis were more conservative. These suits had string-backed bandeau or halter tops and brief bottoms that usually covered the belly button. The side-tie bikini , often seen on pin-up models of the time, is fastened together by a knot, button or another gathering device. Lattice side bikini bottoms, while a bit longer than regular bikini briefs, had open vertical strips on the side that exposed bare skin.

Men's Swim Trunks

In the 1950s, it became acceptable for men to wear swim boot sans sleeveless tops that were common during the first five decades of the 20th century. Loose-fitting print trunks, similar to boxer shorts, were a common sight on beaches from Malibu to the East Coast. Cotton trunks backed with white knit lining sported a variety of designs, from colourful Hawaiian or Batik prints to exotic paisley. Cabana sets, which featured a patterned boot with a matching shirt, also gained popularity. Form-fitting swim briefs in solid or striped patterns, occasionally worn by lifeguards, were less common.

Skirted One-Piece Swimsuits

Skirted one-piece swimsuits resembled a minidress with built-in bra cups with a separate or attached bikini brief underneath it. Usually made of cotton, skirted swimwear had halter ties and could have pleated or ruched skirts.

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