The most iconic swimsuits in pop culture history, ever
Words: Lindsay Samson | Photography: Getty Images
Women’s swimsuits have come a long way from such humble beginnings. The earliest iteration of a swimsuit arrived in the form of heavy, woollen bathing gowns and bloomers, with the intention of covering up as much as possible. (Obviously not the most practical of swimming costumes.) Thank the swimwear heavens for the garment’s evolution – an exercise that’s been immortalised through a number of glorious swimwear moments in fashion and film. In celebration of this quintessential summer garment, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most seminal swimwear moments since the 90s.
Is there any swimsuit more instantly recognisable than C.J. Parker’s high-cut, red one piece? Made famous by Pamela Anderson in the classic TV series Baywatch, it defined a very specific type of 90s swimwear aesthetic. Now 52 years old, the actress admits to still wearing the famed suit in her own time and, given that the style has recently made a powerful comeback, the likes of Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez have followed suit.
Halle Berry was the first Oscar-winning actress to star in a James Bond film and her character, Jinx, is introduced to audiences of the 20th 007 film clad in a bright orange Eres bikini, along with with a white belt and knife holster. The bright, bold, utilitarian swimsuit is a tribute to Ursula Andress’ white bikini in Dr. No. – although you probably don’t need a knife on hand during a dip in the ocean (...unless you’re Jinx, of course).
In 1996, Tyra Banks became the first black woman to appear alone on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Though it’s one of the most recognisable images in the world, it was an opportunity she almost turned down, having appeared on the cover the previous year alongside Argentine supermodel Valeria Mazza. In 2019, Banks came out of retirement to recreate her solo shoot and made history once again as the oldest model to grace the cover.
Keira Knightley did the seemingly impossible in Atonement and made 1930s swimwear feel modern and chic. Though far more modest than most of the swimsuits on this list, along with a vintage swimming cap, the swimsuit stole the show in a film filled with enchanting costume design by Jacqueline Durran. It remains one of the most beautiful waterside moments we’ve seen on screen to date.
Before she became a mother of six and dedicated herself to humanitarian causes, Angelina Jolie was typecast as one of Hollywood’s “bad girls”. In 2001, she starred as video game idol Lara Croft and donned the character’s signature ensemble: a tank top, shorts and combat boots. A look that we remember just as vividly is the sporty, black bikini she speeds away in riding a jet ski, on a mission to catch the bad guys.
Queen of the runway Naomi Campbell has given us a lifetime of memorable fashion moments over the years. But back when the late Gianni Versace was at the helm of Versace, the supermodel walked in Versace’s spring ready-to-wear runway show, sauntering down the catwalk in an impossibly high-cut one piece with a plunging neckline. Exhibiting what would become her signature strut, Campbell did away with her jacket as she reached the end of the runway, revealing the suit’s impeccable craftsmanship and leaving the fashion world – and us – breathless.