1970’s Swimwear & Beach Culture

Vintage SwimsuitsIt is  that time a year where many of us get to shed our clothes and soak in some rays down at the local water hole. This year 1970’s fashion is on the rise and I just can’t help but browse through some of favorite photos of 70’s swimwear. From European designer beach wear to southern California surf-wear, 1970’s swimwear had a a style and appeal all of its own.

Two major themes dominate the shrinking bikini throughout the 1960s and 1970s. One concerns the general narrowing and reduction of the bikini in general. This momentum to some extent drives the second, which is the mechanics of how the suit is fastened together in order to say on–and to be taken off of–the body. These elements include a rich tableau of soutien-gorge tying and fastening details.

By the early 1970s, the declining waistline of culotte nombril, now precariously below the pubic bone and not always covering the buttocks, collides with the slower-rising legline. The emerging point of contact–the side of the bikini brief–provides the focus for a flurry of design creativity. The resulting silhouettes include culotte sidegather, in which gathers and bow ties narrow the sides of the culotte, culotte sidering, in which rings hold the front and back of the culotte together, culotte sidestrap, in which the side of the culotte is reduced to a decorative strap (with or without a fastener), and culotte sidetie, in which the front and back of the culotte are tied together at the side in a knot.

The ultimate conclusion of these two developments is the the thinning of the strap to a pair of string cords which are tied at the sides of the culotte. This silhouette, which matures during the late 1970s, is commonly called the string bikini, and is one of the most definitive of all bikini silhouettes.

1970's Swimwear

Classic One-piece and Two piece swimsuit designs from the 70’s

Culotte Sidegather
As the dominant 1950s-1960s evolution toward a lower brief forces the sides of the culotte to become narrower, one way to accelerate the process is to attach a pair of elastic strings to the side of the brief so that the bikiniite may gather the material at the side and secure it into a narrow bundle. Thus although the origin of the culotte sidegather predate the 1970s, it is not until this decade that the minimization pressures on the bikini propel the silhouette to mainstream center stage.


70's skate

1970’s Venice Beach

Ring Bikini
Closely allied to fastenings are rings–essentially a circle of steel or plastic which may be fastened to two or more pieces of fabric. During the 1960s and 1970s rings emerge in bandeau, bra and halter styles ), as well as the sides of the culotte, the so-called culotte sidering. Rings also emerge as a way to connect tops and bottoms of maillots, and in one of the very first tangas. Although their presence will ebb and flow, they will be a mainstay of bikini design for decades.


Sidestrap Bikini
The progressive narrowing of material at the sides of the culotte and the narrowing of the halter straps bring straps into major bikini play, both in the top and the culotte sidestrap. The species archives full definition as worn by Cheryl Tiegs for Sports Illustrated in the annual swimsuit issue of 1974). For a young lady on a local beach, the sidestrap represents a natural and incremental raising the stakes of exposure. The challenge is what to do when the waistline and legline fully intersect.

As with the ring, the strap returns to play a role in the post-minimalist era of the 1980s and 1990s. Straps work with with the rising legline v-kini as well as the tanga.
Culotte Sidetie
The knot is a true alternative to the gather. Indeed, the knot in swimwear is well-established for bandeaux and halters; its use on the side of the brief to hold the front and back together in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is a natural, novel and erotic development (RS7605-06). Obviously the sidetie is usually a component of the string culotte, popularized in the late 1970s, but it is also engineered into bikinis that do not have strings at the sides.

In fact, the culotte sidetie had been established in pinup literature as early as 1950, but does not become mainstream until the side of the culotte narrows. Halfway between the nombril and string, sidetie represents an important erotic escalation, because, unlike even a narrow strap, the (bow) tie has the potential of being unfastened. Thus, not only is the bikini bottom perilously low, possibly showcasing the dimples in the small of the back and base of the spine, and perhaps a tease of pubic hair, but it is easily unknotted as well. “For better suntans,” Vogue would announce, but a smart young woman would learn how to tie double knots, if not square ones, lease her own tease be turned against her.

Fasteners and Knots
Topside, too, knots challenge to be kept closed–bandeau front or back, halters at the neck and/or back or front, and bras, usually either front or back.

The very ability of knots to be transient invite suggestive deployment by the bikiniite. Partial striptease becomes part of the beach vocabulary. Fastening and unfastening one’s suit while in public view at the beach or pool-side requires a disciplined skill. These performances include putting swimsuits on and taking them off underneath blouses and skirts and selectively untying halter and backstraps for the purpose of avoiding strap mark tan lines. Closely related are unusual wrap styles.

Gathers, rings, and straps place the side of the culotte into rich play, but the final element is the integration of fasteners into the side of the culotte. Over the years fasteners had included buttons, knots, snaps, hooks and eyes, zippers, and clasps, but the new generation of fastener is not buried in the garment but bold, distinctive, suggestive, provocative. Fasteners, both in the soutien-gorge and the culotte now become direct in purpose, acquired self-identity and part of the focus of the play of the swimsuit: not only is the bikini getting smaller, it is also getting easier to take off.

Fasteners are a sufficently major topic in Bikini Science that they are accorded their own page, Fasteners and Fastenology.

And not only in private, but especially in public. For there now exists a vocabulary of actions that empower the bikiniite in her very public seduction: partial public removals like strap offshoulders if not strapoffs, lying on ones stomach with the top backstrap unfastened, and retying a halter into a bandeau. And with the culotte there exist similar provocations.


Thongs, G-strings and Topless
Although it remains a future fashion phenomena, the sexual revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s also contains hints of the future to come. In the 1960s Brigitte Bardot advocated the topless bikini and Rudi Gernreich previewed the topless maillot, now, in 1974, Gernreich attacks from a different direction, with his thong bikini (in both male and female styles) baring the butt. By the following year the French fashion magazine Elle documents the full combination–a topless g-string–at the beach, while Christie Brinkley demonstrates a tanga for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. That same year Gernreich creates the maillot tanga . All together, this will pretty much wrap up the design space for the next 30 years.

There are certain keys to follow when dating vintage swimwear:

-Lastex began to be used in swimwear starting in the late 30’s and continued through the 50’s.
-Spandex, better known as elastane in Europe, began to be used in swimsuits in the late 60’s. Dupont patented this as Lycra.
-Fabric content on labels was mandated in the 1960’s
-Garment care instructions seen on labels beginning in 1971
-Symbols on care labels began in the 1990’s in the US, earlier elsewhere


Another innovation in swimwear in the 1970s was the tan-through swimsuit but as the issue of skin protection from the sun emerged, their popularity was a short-lived novelty.

70's beach wear

Model Cheryl Tiegs at the beach in an orange bikini with white polka dots by Villager, with a man reclining on chaise — Image by © Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

Farrah Faucet

Famous Farrah Fawcett Poster on most adolescent boy’s walls in the 1970’s

70's swimwear

Cheryl Tiegs swimsuit pose


1970's beachwear

Modern bathing suit with exact 1970’s glamor cut

70's swimwear

Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime with a wig-wearin’ female friend, circa 1970s.

1970's swimwear

Surf Rats Hanging out at the beach

70's Swimwear

Christie Brinkley Sporting a colorful one piece

70's fashion

1970’s European Men’s Matching Swimwear

70's beachwear

Mark Richards matching his board shorts with his surfboard

Vintage Swimwear

Larry Bertlemann pure classic style

vintage beachwear

Kids 19070’s beachwear

Vintage Surfers

North shore 1970’s beach fashion


MR Ripping the Bottom Turn


Classic Super Models



Another 70’s Sunbathing Gem


classic 70’s advert