When the ‘Baywatch’ era of one-piece bikinis and teeny bikinis reigned in the 1990s, relief came for many women in the form of the tankini—a tank-top model that offered more coverage than most two-piece bikinis, but could still be worn. modest, sporty or sexy. It was one of the few innovations at a time when women’s swim styles focused only on a few body types and style preferences — even getting the stamp of approval on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 1990 Swimsuit Issue.
Beefcake was inspired by 1920s swimsuit designs for its line of gender-inclusive clothing. Credit: Ashe Walker
And while the influencer-preferred loincloth bikini is still around, there are also a number of wider coverage options on the market that still evoke beachy sex appeal. Take Kim Kardashian’s latest Skims effort, for example: a range of swimwear in a variety of sizes with campaign images reminiscent of the bombshell vibe of the ’80s. But the styles so far include cycling suits, mid-waist bib shorts and long-sleeved one-pieces, in addition to skin-bare ‘monokinis’, triangle bikini tops and bandeaus.
Women in search of tailored suits no longer have to accept scarce offers – during Miami Swim Week in July, designers including Cupshe and Bfyne unveiled tailored collections ranging from cute and tropical to the height of poolside glamour.
During Miami Swim Week 2022, BFyne offered a glamorous poolside look. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Bfynec
For Becca McCharen-Tran, founder of New York-based brand Chromat, whose self-esteem-hyping looks have pioneered inclusive swimwear, the shift is a welcome one.
“The culture has changed and swimwear is changing to meet this cultural moment,” she told CNN in a phone interview. “I find that exciting.”
The new ‘pool rules’
Chromat has taken the lead over the past decade with experimental designs and campaigns focusing on different models of different ethnicities, body types, skills, genders and sexuality. The label’s groundbreaking “Pool Rules” campaign impressed in 2018 with “Babe Guard,” a playful riff on the lifeguard trope, whose models include breast cancer survivor Ericka Hart, the late human rights activist Mama Cax, and body positivity. advocate Denise Bidot. “Our bodies are where we live,” Bidot wrote in an op-ed for Teen Vogue about the campaign’s importance to her, “and so we need to show ourselves unconditional love from within.”
Chromat x Tourmaline presented its Spring-Summer 2022 collection at New York Fashion Week last September. Credit: Sean Zanni/Getty Images for Chromat
McCharen-Tran said swimwear has become Chromat’s most popular line, largely because of their campaigns. “Swimwear is this product that combines our ethos to celebrate all body types in this garment that can be so loaded and so vulnerable,” she said. “Our campaigns (were) so different from the regular casting choices. I think people really felt personally connected to that message we sent.”
Chromat’s latest collection, a collaboration with the artist Tourmaline, includes designs for people “who don’t tuck in,” offering pouched swimsuits created with trans women and non-binary people in mind. The vibrant collection includes loose pieces with straps and buckles, cut out swimsuits, swim skirts and shorts, bustier tops and sporty zip-up suits.
“There’s not just a unique way for trans women to appear in public space,” McCharen-Tran said of the collection. “We can go against this one expectation, similar to what femininity means, or means feminine.”
Chromat is at the forefront of inclusive swimwear campaigns and swimsuit design. Credit: Sean Zanni/Getty Images for Chromat
But for decades, swimwear and femininity walked a narrow path dictated by Hollywood ideals.
According to Jacqueline Quinn, a fashion consultant and adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design in New York, the 1950s and 1960s ushered in many of the first iconic swimsuit designs. The women who wore them to the silver screen defined the beach body: Marilyn Monroe in an intoxicating one-piece in the rom-com “How to Marry a Millionaire,” Deborah Kerr in a halter-neck suit in war novel “From Here to Eternity,” and Ursula Andress in a white wide-belt bikini for the James Bond movie “Dr. No.”
Cupshe unveiled its first plus-size collection during Miami Swim Week 2022. Credit: Jason Koerner/Getty Images for Cupshe
“Mostly, Hollywood was the springboard and then magazines followed,” Quinn said in a phone interview. “There was almost a dictatorship of the trend — not looking for individuality, but more of a copy-cat mentality.”
The following decades further cemented the archetype of the sleek but curvy bikini-clad bombshell, from Phoebe Cate’s slow-mo daydream poolside sequence in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde” who captured the video essay of Elle Woods filmed in a hot tub.
Quinn pointed to the Miracle Suit — a precursor to Spanx and Athleta shapewear swimwear that became popular in the 1990s — as one of the few brands to offer a wide range of sizes (although the promised “miracle” looks 10 pounds slimmer). is eyebrow raising by today’s standards).
Now Quinn is excited about the innovation she sees emerging in the industry, from Summersalt’s data-driven approach to measure 10,000 women to get a better fit, to Victory Adaptive’s swimwear for kids with disabilities, featuring styles with hook-and-loop side closures. and openings for feeding hoses .
Rebecca Saygi, a swimwear and activewear strategist at trend forecaster WGSN, agrees that the swimwear industry has expanded into who they equip — and for what reasons.
“Brands are aware that consumers are more likely to buy a product if they see someone they can identify with who is related to that product,” Saygi said via email. “Being more inclusive gives brands access to a much broader customer base.”
Skims’ latest campaign featured Paris Jackson in a long-sleeved piece. Credit: The Cobra Snake (Mark Hunter)
But she also sees wellness, water sports and sportswear gaining a greater impact on the market, accelerated in part by the effects of the pandemic. These athletic styles meet the needs of beachgoers looking for more skin coverage than cover-ups.
“We’re seeing brands start expanding into these categories with rash vests, longer sleeve silhouettes and more functional, slightly more modest swim options,” she said, pointing to labels like One One and Verdelimon.
McCharen-Tran suggested that Chromat may also want to explore modesty or sun protection coverage options, such as swim leggings, but still prioritize styles for everyone. That includes the option to wear “a little string” regardless of size, rather than making suits that try to “cover as much of your body as possible.”
“I think it represents a bigger change in how we feel about showing our bodies. We’re not ashamed of it anymore and we don’t have to hide it,” she said.
“We’re going to go to the place of being fully covered if that’s what you want, or being in a thong if that’s what you want, and everything in between. It’s just different options for everyone to show up at the party.”
Top image: A Skims cycling suit and swimming trunks.