Seaside fashion throughout the ages

The summer is starting to let itself be felt and we are creeping closer to June, which means we can start planning how to spend the days of good weather we'll hopefully be getting.

What better way to make the most of the summer than by heading to the beach? The seaside offers some great activities, as well as an opportunity to soak up the sun and work on your tan.

The seaside has been a popular summer pastime in the UK for hundreds of years, with Brits heading to the coast to make the most of the sun, sea, sand and fresh air. This has inspired our latest awesome infographic, which you can find here.

It also means that there have been some strange and wonderful seaside fashion trends over the years. With vintage-inspired looks being so big this year, we thought we'd take a look at what beach looks have been big over the year.

18th century

While nowadays people are all about their tans, back in the 18th century women wanted to remain as pale as possible. This meant that they went to the beach in full skirts, long sleeves, shawls and bonnets that shielded their faces from the sun.

They got changed completely in private – making use of bathing machines – into a bathing gown before heading into the water. Some women would even add weights to the hems of their bathing dresses to stop them lifting when they were in the water.

Late 1800s – early 1900s

As the 1900s began, bathing suits were slightly less cumbersome- although they were still designed to keep women as covered as possible. They would come with long stockings, knee-length dresses with sleeves to the elbow or longer, caps, bloomers and beach shoes.

Everything was quite fancy, with frills and ribbons adding a dressy look to the swimwear. The beach shoes – designed to protect feet from stony beaches – were often quite long and featured a lace-up design, adding another layer to the look.


It wasn't long into the 1900s that women started to get a bit fed up of heavy dresses that made swimming or moving in water incredibly difficult – especially when a lot of the outfits were made of wool.

This prompted designs that featured less fabric and covered the female figure up a bit less. This meant that women could actually start getting involved in swimming as a sport, as well as enjoy the sunshine a bit more.


The 1920s saw women being able to shop for single-piece swimming garments, rather than bloomers and a dress. Although they still wore matching stockings, it was expected that the suits still be a certain length. 

Some beaches would actually have people measuring the length of swimsuits, with women wearing suits that were too short risking prosecution. However, they did get shorter and shorter as the 1920s progressed.


The 1940s saw the birth of two-piece swimsuits that we are more familiar with, with French designer Louis Reard unveiling his first bikini in 1946. 

Throughout the US, wartime efforts saw extra material being removed from swimwear to fit with rationing. However, the styles were still quite modest, ensuring that belly buttons were always covered – this is why high-waisted styles were so popular. 

Once the war was over, the birth of the string bikini came about in France, with Reard having to hire an exotic dancer to debut his tiny creation as no professional model wanted to be seen in it. 

It wasn't long though before brave women throughout Europe were turning to the bikini, making it a beachwear staple and leading it to continue to inspire the fashion world.

Nowadays, we have a lot of different styles of beachwear to choose from, allowing you to go ultra modern or opt for something more retro. What will you be wearing on the beach this year?

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