Regarding the bathing suit, nary a navel was on display before the 1960s. In our own magazine’s documentation of the swimsuit, the 1940s brought us colorful images of mostly covered up young ladies by the sea. Photos taken by Horst P. Horst and Toni Frissell showcase waist-hugging one-pieces with brief-cut bottoms. A decade later, bathing beauties reached impossible heights of elegance with swimwear almost too pretty to swim in. Some suits from the ’50s contained as much boning as a Dior gown and a day by the pool required coordinating sunglasses, sarong, and hat.
We had to wait until the 1960s before the barely-there swimsuit shed its taboo associations. Though the modern two-piece swimsuit was born in 1932 (conceived by Jacques Heim), the garment was ahead of its time. So too was Louis Réard’s itsy bitsy string bikini, which made a splashy debut in 1946. At the time, the eyebrow-raising swimsuit was deemed so unwholesome and indecent, he couldn’t find a model brave enough to have her photo taken in it and instead he hired a Monte Carlo showgirl. It would take another 10 years, and then some, before the bikini was accepted—this was thanks in part to Brigitte Bardot’s films and the sun-tanned body of Ursula Andress—the very first Bond Girl—in 1962.
Reflecting and guiding the fashion times, Vogue filled its pages in the ’60s with models clad in bathing suits of all varieties—string bikinis, one-pieces with donut hole-like cutouts, and suits that pulsated with Emilio Pucci’s psychedelic swirls. The otherworldly but German-born model Veruschka was on hand to model many of these styles, as was Marisa Berenson. Photographers like Henry Clarke and Helmut Newton followed them around, camera in tow, on location at rocky Brazilian beaches or pristine pools. Scant swimwear coincided with the era’s youthquake, the growing taste for travel, and sexual liberation. Women were free to be and all the better if they were in a fabulous metallic bikini. Below we revisit some of our favorite swim-suited moments of the 1960s, plus how to get the look.