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From bikini to burkini: The evolution of the bathing suit

June 20, 2017

Both bikinis and burkinis have provoked scandals as ideas of modesty and women's rights have changed over time. From functional to fashionable, here's a look at how the bathing suit has developed.

History of the bathing suit Esther Williams
Image: picture alliance/United Archives/IFTN

Summer officially starts on June 21, so now is the perfect time to start thinking about what to wear to the beach or pool.

Today, wearing string-bikinis, one-pieces or, in some cases, even going nude are socially acceptable ways to enjoy the sun. But this hasn't always been the case.

In the 18th century, for example, both men and women wore full-body suits made of thick cotton or wool fabrics - not exactly quick-drying materials. However, when tourism took off in the early 20th century and holiday trips to the sea became the norm, swimsuits became more practical and form-fitting.

As the decades wore on, suits seemed to shrink. Bathing costumes in the 1920s were available in small sizes, while the rise of Hollywood in the 1940s saw many celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, baring more and more skin.

The world was shocked, when in 1946, exotic danger Micheline Bernardini appeared at a Parisian swimming pool in four fabric triangles, strung together. Many may not have guessed that this debut of the bikini would change women's bathing fashion forever.

Today, beachgoers have many choices. Ironically, while the debut of the bikini caused a scandal, today, the burkini - a whole-body swimsuit - is taking most of the heat. What is next in bathing fashion? Only time will tell.

Bikinis and burkinis

Sarah Hucal
Sarah Hucal Freelance Multimedia Journalist