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Does The Material Of Your Swimwear Matter?

Swimwear comes in all shapes and sizes. From tiny bikinis to peplum swimsuits. We all think of swimwear as being form fitting, quick drying and stretchy. But has it always been this way? Below we look at what our swimwear is made of and why it matters.

Early swimwear

People didn’t consider the seaside as a fun place to be until the middle of the 1800s. Women originally wore heavy cotton dresses to preserve their modesty whilst bathing. This was highly unsuitable, as cotton sags in water and takes a long time to dry. That all changed in 1921 when Jantzen Knitting Mills produced their first ‘elastic’ swimsuit. This was the classic one-piece with shorts that we always think of from old movies. These suits were knitted with Lastex, in order to make them fit the body and were worn by men and women right up until the 1940s.

Woman wearing swimwear in 1940s


Although wool allows for a better fit than cotton, is it the best swimwear material? The answer is, of course, no. Otherwise, we would not have moved on from it. However, it was an ideal solution at the time due to its properties and widespread availability.

Wool is extremely durable and has great retention qualities. The fabric can easily stretch and bounce back once the pressure is released. This means it is good at keeping its shape and won’t go baggy. Paired with latex, this would have resulted in a great fabric for swimsuits. Wool is also, surprisingly, water repellent, so if you weren’t swimming but just paddling, it would stay dry and cool. It is also dirt resistant, meaning it is easy to keep clean.

The biggest downside to using wool as a swimwear material is that, once wet, it becomes very warm. Knitting Naturally says, ‘properties of the wool cause it to heat the liquid’. During a sunny summer holiday, you’d soon become very hot in your wool swimsuit! A lot of people also hate the texture of wet wool, which could cause some major problems.

Modern swimwear

The world of swimwear changed when nylon was made commercially available in 1938. This material was strong, lightweight and quick drying, and also fitted the body perfectly. SwimSwam says, ‘The advent of nylon, Lycra (spandex) and other man-made materials allowed both competitive and casual swimwear to cling to the body and slice through water more easily than ever before’. The only downside to nylon is that it does not hold dye particularly well so can tend to fade in the sun or chlorine.

Women in bikinis on a boat

Mixing fabrics

In order to fix the problem of colour loss, nylon is often mixed with different fabrics to create the perfect swimsuit material. SimplySwim says, ‘Lycra can be found in almost every quality swimsuit due to its great fit and elasticity but also tends to be mixed with other materials due to it not being the most comfortable fabric in high quantities’. Polyester is the final fabric usually added to the mix to create the ideal swimsuit material. It is chlorine and fade resistant, meaning it will keep the dye colours and protect the fabric from being ruined. The three fabrics combined create a stretchy, well fitted, quick drying super fabric that we are all familiar with today.

Having the right fabric for your swimsuit means you can be comfortable in and out of the water, stay cool and also look stylish. We often take this for granted, but next time you put on your swimsuit, just think back to a time when it would have been woollen!

What do you think about wool or cotton swimsuits rather than nylon? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author Gemma Curtis

Gemma is a writer for Sparkling Strawberry who loves vintage glamour and lace details.

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