Shopping the Archive: Our Favorite Swimwear Inspired by the 1960s in Vogue

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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.

MetallicsA model in a Sylvia de Gay for Robert Sloan swimsuit in Castellaras, France. Photographed by Henry Clarke, Vogue, January 15, 1966.

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Zimmerman ruffle-trimmed metallic swimsuit

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Melissa Odabash Bora Bora metallic swimsuit

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Rick Owens metallic one-piece swimsuit

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Flower PowerA model in a terry cloth swimsuit by Emo. Photographed by Helmut Newton, Vogue, June 1964.

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Alexandra Miro Madonna floral bikini top

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Alexandra Miro Madonna floral bikini bottoms

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Fendi Windflowers-print terry swimsuit

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Tory Burch floral print one-piece

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Rope DetailA model in a Cole of California swimsuit on a beach in Longbow Key, Florida. Photographed by Art Kane, Vogue, December 1963.

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Lisa Marie Fernandez Yasmin terrycloth swimsuit

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Heidi Klein San Marino rope triangle bikini top

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$135

$67

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Heidi Klein San Marino rope triangle bikini bottoms

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$130

$65

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Les Girls Les Boys lace up one piece swimsuit

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Psychedelic PrintsVeruschka in an Emilio Pucci top and sarong in Angra dos Reis, Brazil. Photographed by Henry Clarke, Vogue, June 1965.

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Emilio Pucci abstract print bikini top

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Emilio Pucci abstract print bikini bottoms

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Lygia & Nanny Vitoria printed bikini set

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Emilio Pucci Samoa printed pareo

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Emilio Pucci printed halterneck swimsuit

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KnittedWindsor Elliott in a bikini by Allen & Cole, designed by Naomi. Photographed by Gianni Penati, Vogue, April 1969.

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Missoni Mare zigzag knit triangle bikini

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Missoni Mare zigzag knit swimsuit

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She Made Me classic crochet bikini top

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She Made Me classic crochet bikini bottoms

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Belts and ButtonsA pair of models wearing Cole of California (below) and Oleg Cassini for Peter Pan (above) swimsuits. Photographed by William Bell, Vogue, November 15, 1960.

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Lisa Marie Fernandez Magdalena button high-waisted bikini

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Solid & Striped Nina belted ribbed swimsuit

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Melissa Odabash Belize belted swimsuit

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Balmain button detailed swimsuit

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