When “Baywatch”-era one-pieces and skimpy bikinis ruled in the 1990s, relief for many women came in the form of the tankini – a tank top silhouette that offered more coverage than most. two-pieces, but which could always be modest, sporty or sexy. It was one of the few innovations in an era when women’s swim styles catered to only a few body types and style preferences – and even got the stamp of approval on the cover of the swimsuit number of bath from Sports Illustrated in 1990.
Beefcake drew inspiration from 1920s swimsuit designs for its gender-neutral clothing line. Credit: Ashe walker
And while the influencer-favorite loincloth bikini is still here and kicking, there are also a number of fuller coverage options hitting the market that still evoke beach sex appeal. Take for example Kim Kardashian’s latest Skims attempt: a line of swimwear in a range of sizes with campaign imagery reminiscent of the bombshell vibe of the 1980s. mid-rise bike shorts and long-sleeve one-pieces in addition to cut-out “monokinis”, triangle bikini tops and bandeaus.
Women looking for plus-size suits no longer have to accept rare offers – during Miami Swim Week in July, designers such as Cupshe and Bfyne unveiled size collections ranging from cute and tropical to glam on the edge. of the swimming pool.
During Miami Swim Week 2022, BFyne offered glamorous poolside looks. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Bfyne
For Becca McCharen-Tran, founder of New York-based brand Chromat, whose self-esteem-boosting looks have been at the forefront of inclusive swimwear, the change is welcome.
“Culture has changed and swimsuits are changing to accommodate this cultural moment,” she told CNN in a phone interview. “I think it’s exciting.”
The new “pool rules”
Chromat has led the charge over the past decade with experimental designs and campaigns centered around diverse models of different ethnicities, body types, abilities, genders and sexualities. The label’s groundbreaking “Pool Rules” campaign caused a stir in 2018 with its “Babe Guard,” a playful riff on the trope of lifeguards, whose models included breast cancer survivor Ericka Hart, the late human rights activist disabilities 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 unconditional love from within.”
Chromat x Tourmaline presented its Spring/Summer 2022 collection during New York Fashion Week last September. Credit: Sean Zanni/Getty Images for Chromate
McCharen-Tran said swimwear has become Chromat’s most popular line, largely because of their campaigns. “The swimsuit is that product that combines our philosophy of celebrating all body types into this garment that can be so heavy and so vulnerable,” she said. “Our campaigns (were) so different from traditional casting choices. I think people felt really personally connected to this message that we were sending.”
Chromat’s latest collection, a collaboration with artist Tourmaline, includes designs for people “who don’t fit”, featuring swimsuits with pouches created for trans women and non-binary people. The vibrant collection includes strappy and buckled pieces, cutout one-pieces, swim skirts and shorts, strapless tops and sporty zip-up jumpsuits.
“There’s no one way for trans women to present themselves in the public space,” McCharen-Tran said of the collection. “We can go against that expectation of kind of like what femininity or womanhood means.”
Chromat has been at the forefront of inclusive swimwear campaigns and swimwear design. Credit: Sean Zanni/Getty Images for Chromate
But for many decades, swimwear and femininity followed a narrow path dictated by Hollywood ideals.
According to Jacqueline Quinn, fashion consultant and assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design in New York, the 1950s and 1960s heralded many of the first iconic swimwear designs. The women who wore them on the big screen have come to define the beach body: Marilyn Monroe in a dazzling piece in the romantic comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire”, Deborah Kerr in a backless costume in the wartime romance “From Here to Eternity,” and Ursula Andress in a white, wide-belt bikini for the James Bond film “Dr. No.”
Cupshe unveiled its first plus size collection during Miami Swim Week 2022. Credit: Jason Koerner/Getty Images for Cupshe
“Usually Hollywood was the springboard, and then the magazines followed,” Quinn said in a phone interview. “There was almost a dictatorship of the trend – not pursuing individuality, but rather a kind of copycat mentality.”
The following decades further cemented the archetypal slim-but-curvy bikini bombshell, from Phoebe Cates’ poolside daydream sequence in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde” filming the video trial of Elle Woods in a hot tub.
Quinn pointed to the Miracle Suit – a precursor to shapewear swimwear from Spanx and Athleta that became popular in the 1990s – as one of the few brands to offer a wide range of sizes (although the promised “miracle” to look 10 pounds thinner raises eyebrows by today’s standards).
Now Quinn is excited about the innovation she sees emerging in the industry, from Summersalt’s data-driven approach to measuring 10,000 women for better fits, to Victory Adaptive swimwear for children with disabilities. , with styles with Velcro side closures and openings for feeding tubes. .
Rebecca Saygi, swimwear and sportswear strategist at trend forecaster WGSN, agrees that the swimwear industry has become broader in terms of who it outfits — and why.
“Brands become aware that consumers are more likely to purchase a product when they see someone they can relate to associated with that product,” Saygi said via email. “Being more inclusive opens brands to a much wider customer base.”
Skims’ latest campaign featured Paris Jackson in a long-sleeved one-piece. Credit: The Cobrasnake (Mark Hunter)
But she also sees wellness, water sports and activewear having an increased influence on the market – in part accelerated by the effects of the pandemic. These athletic styles meet the needs of beachgoers looking for more skin coverage beyond camouflage.
“We’re seeing brands starting to expand into these categories with rash vests, longer-sleeved silhouettes, and more functional, slightly more modest swim options,” she said, pointing to labels like One One and Verdelimon.
McCharen-Tran suggested that Chromat also want to explore coverage options for modesty or sun protection, like swim leggings, but while prioritizing styles for everyone. This includes being able to wear “a tiny little thong” regardless of size, instead of making costumes that try to “cover as much of your body as possible”.
“I think it represents a bigger shift in how we feel about showing our bodies. We don’t feel ashamed of it anymore and we don’t have to hide it anymore,” she said. .
“We get to the point of fully covering up if that’s what you want, or being in thongs if that’s what you want, and whatever. It’s just different options for everyone to show up at celebration.”
Top image: Skims cycling suit and swim shorts.
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