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Bottoms Up

© Flickr / State Library of Queensland

Swimwear has got a long and varied history, and the bikini in particular has come a long way from the full-length, multi-layered ultra-conservative “bathing costumes” of the early 20th Century. Evidence of the bikini’s existence actually dates back even further, all the way to ancient Greece, where women athletes wore high-cut briefs called “perizomas” with a “mastodeton” (what we call a bandeau) when training and competing. Even statues of Venus found in Pompeii show the goddess donning a bikini

But the bikini-proper wouldn’t make its debut until 1947, when French engineer Louis Reard designed the “world’s smallest bathing suit-“ a newspaper-patterned g-string bikini. The suit was considered scandalous, and the only girl Reard could find to model it was an exotic dancer from the Casino de Paris, Micheline Bernardini. After the initial shock and scandal wore off, women (and men) responded enthusiastically to this skimpy approach to swimwear, and glamorous starlets like Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable popularized the navel-hugging, high-waisted bikini-bottom styles of the 1950s and 60s.

So what happened to these curvy, classic bikini styles? As time went on, bikinis became smaller and smaller, reducing themselves to the stringy things of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers and itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikinis. However, Spring’s retro-inspired fashion feel has brought these high-rise bikinis back into vogue. The best news is that these so-old-they’re-new-again styles is that they’re much more figure-flattering and forgiving than the micro-bikinis we’re used to seeing.

But where to begin? The look is definitely retro, but you don’t want to look like you’re wearing your granny’s bathing suit (ew.) Our picks have vintage styling with all the magic of modern-day materials (hello, lycra!)

Norma Kamali. Jets, Marc Jacobs, Anthropologie© Norma Kamali. Jets, Marc Jacobs, AnthropologieFor a really retro inspired silhouette, look for a ruched, skirted style. The Norma Kamali Bill High-Waisted Bikini Briefs + Jonny Ruched Bandeau Bikini Top are a pin-up perfect pair, especially in this glam crimson hue. Not the lady-in-red type? Check out the Camera Pose Bikini from Anthropologie – it’s got that curvaceous, skirted shape, in beautiful, colorful stripes.

Fancy florals? Yes, please. We love the liberty print of the 40’s-inspired Prairie High-Waited Floral-print Bikini from Jets by Jessika Allen, and the cute bow details at the hip and on the halter top. Marc by Marc Jacobs takes the feminine factor one step further with his Colette Bikini, complete with miniature daisies, ruffle trim, and a skinny little belt. And if you’re not into flowers, either, consider the playful print of the Nanette Lepore Pop-Of-Dots Bikini, also from Anthropologie. Neon green polka-dots pop against a jungle-green background and shocking-pink trim on this bathing beauty.

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