How bathing suit fashion has changed over the years

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Form over function

The 18th century saw the development of the first bathing outfits for ladies and whole-body suits for the gentlemen. People swam in bathing suits made of thick wool and cotton fabrics that soaked up lots of water and took an eternity to dry. Everything was strictly segregated according to gender - including swimming zones.

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Better suited

When tourism started to take off in the early 20th century, swimming trips to the sea came into fashion. At the beginning of a season the sea was "opened." Swimsuits had by now become a little tighter, and elastic tricot came into play. Bathing caps, still resembling hats, were intended to protect people from the sun. Full-body swimsuits, as seen here in 1910, were designed for men and women.

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Nipped and tucked

The Roaring Twenties finally catapulted swimwear into modernity: small belts, golden buttons and glittering sequins added a decidedly feminine touch to bathing fashion. During this period, swimsuits were tailored only in small fits - they were not available in plus sizes.

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A scandalous debut

Just four small triangles held together with thin strings, the world was shocked by the first bikini. On July 5, 1946, exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini appeared in front of cameras in a Parisian swimming pool in the skimpy piece of clothing. The suit was designed by French former-engineer Louis Réard, who probably had no idea he would change the way women bathed forever.

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Skirts that won't slip

In the 1950s in the US, Hollywood films featuring swimmers were very successful. The "Aquamaids" performed water ballet and gymnastics on water skis, as pictured in this photo. The top part of the bikini may seem as if it's in danger of flying off, while the skirt appears as if it won't go anywhere at 30 miles per hour. This is an early model of a sporty bikini style.

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Bathing Venus

Olympic swimmer Esther Williams caught the attention of Hollywood agents while performing in a water show. This enabled the athlete to earn an income, as she had not been able to participate in the Olympics in 1940 due to World War II. In "Neptune's Daughter," she starred as an attractive bathing beauty, and would eventually become one of the richest women in Hollywood.

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And then came Marylin Monroe

The famous curves of American movie star Marilyn Monroe were much accentuated by a bathing suit - that is, when she actually wore one, rather than merely a few drops of Chanel No. 5. Her first successes in front of a camera were in the 1940s when she worked as a model for the famous Pirelli calendar (photo), well before her career as an actress took off.

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Modest Miss Germany

The beauty contests of the 1950s were quite modest. What counted most for the jury were inner values: Divorced women were not allowed to take part, for example. The appearances of the candidates were discreetly emphasized by high-heeled shoes and form-fitting swimsuits. Miss Germany Petra Schürmann (seventh from left, first row) won this Miss World competition in 1956.

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Incongruous patterns

After Pop Art exploded on the scene, abstract and geometric patterns started to infiltrate fashion ateliers, and became a defining style of the 1960s. One of the most outstanding fashion designers was Frenchman Andre Courrèges, who applied constructivist patterns to swimwear.

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Head first

In the 1960s, an absolute must for women such as Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, pictured here with co-star Sean Connery, was creative bathing caps in a flowery style. Water repellent rubber caps were a necessary accessory in every beach bag - and men were even permitted to wear a sporty version of them.

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A cut below the rest

The American TV series "Baywatch" has written swimwear history. The swimsuits of the Baywatch girls were extremely high cut, and defined beachwear fashion the world over in the early 90s. The bright red fabric was reduced even further for actress Pamela Anderson and her notable curves. The cult series was broadcast in 144 countries.

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The Bond girls

When Ursula Andress emerged from the ocean in a tight two-piece in 1962, movie-goers' jaws dropped. James Bond, played by Sean Connery, also had to stop for a peek during the film "Dr. No." The same happens to Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in "Die Another Day" 40 years later. In this film, Halle Berry emerges from the water in a similarly flattering suit.

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Treading a fine line

The big question posed by all swimwear designers: How much material is too much? The difference between a bikini and a swimsuit, which traditionally is a little bit more concealing, is difficult to define. A swimsuit in retro style is presented here at Fashion Week Miami for the 2011 bathing season. When it comes to innovative swimwear, Australia is the leader.

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The burkini isn't only for Muslims

This photo was taken on the beach in Australia. In Australia and New Zealand, many people prefer not to be exposed to the blazing sun, and both Muslims and non-Muslims protect their skin from aggressive rays. On the French Riviera, on the other hand, burkinis are not tolerated. The same is true at many bathing establishments in Germany. The burkini ban remains highly controversial.

From one-pieces, two-pieces, and tankinis to burkinis and other unique cuts, bathing fashion continues to surprise and delight. Here's a look at how the bathing suit has developed in the past decades.