Lizz’s Latest Thing: Vintage Swimwear for Grrls & Bois

I’m about to talk about swimsuits. First, let’s not forget that last June we already released Autostraddle’s dope Swimsuit Edition . Go read that first. It’s okay I’ll wait. Okay, now that you’ve read the swimsuit edition I’m not going to talk about timeless swimwear you can wear all the time. I’m going to talk about what you need to own right now. And you need to own a vintage inspired swimsuit.

Vintage inspired swimsuits have been making a slow creep on the market for a couple of years now. Last summer I spent all of June and July trying to track down the perfect halter, full backed, red polka-dotted rouched Betty Paige swim suit. I failed. I can only assume this is because when I first see something cute on TV/in a magazine either it’s a million dollars or you can only buy it in some obscure place like Paris/The Internet.

Thus, last summer when I first decided I wanted a 1950s one-piece, they were pretty much just sold online or for over $200. It’s not that this bathing suit from Modcloth isn’t totes adorbs, it’s just that I’m terrified of ordering something online that I can’t return to a store in person (for that reason, everything shown in the rest of this post is from an actual store where you can return it).

Similarly, this Oscar de la Renta suit is amazing. It’s also almost $600 (boo). If I had an extra $600 around I would probably, I dunno, put it towards something silly like my rent.

But now, luckily, vintage bathing suits are everywhere! 1950s beachwear for everyone! Yay! Especially because, unlike some trends that make me cry all day, throwback swimwear is flattering and inclusive for all sorts of bodies and gender expression. Even the colors/patterns are pretty flattering with lots of blacks, reds, navies and pinks. Plus, you think you know, but you have no idea. This is true life everyone is wearing polka-dots. I love polka dots. Seriously. This is not a test. I want to gay-marry polka dots. So wanna see some of my faves or what?


The most body conscious type of vintage swimwear is the one piece. I’m in love with the resurgence of the one-piece swimsuit because it starts to put to rest the notion that in order to be cute/sexy/attractive/awesome at the beach you have to basically be naked. The tops of these suits are usually either halter or strapless, while the bottoms are generally either skirted or boy-cut.

The winners here are J. Crew and Anthropologie. I am going to own that Anthropologie suit. Mark my word. It will be mine.

Neon Floral Retro Tank $98-J.Crew

Natalie one-Piece $148 Anthropologie

But Target* and Lane Bryant also came out with a bunch of cute suits. Additionally, both stores have stylish, flattering plus size swimsuits that don’t have some stupid skirt down to your knees.

$98 Dillard’s

$158 Anthropologie

$69.96 Lane Bryant

$34.99 Target*

$59.99 J.Crew

$46.99 Kohls


Maybe, however, you’ve noticed how difficult it is to pee in a one piece. Maybe you just have killer abs and the beach is your time to shine. Maybe, like me, you’re just really scared of change. If that’s the case, you can totally work vintage swimwear in to your normal bikini rotation. This is particularly handy if you constantly wear random tops and bottoms together (which as far as I can tell, is what everyone who isn’t a character on ABC Family does).

For bikinis, the 50s style generally translates in to bra-style under-wire or strapless bandeau tops and higher waisted bottoms. Under-wire tops are basically the best thing that could ever happen if you’re breasts, like mine, have their own gravitational field. If you’re small busted bandeau tops are wicked cute as long as you don’t plan on wearing one to play water polo in. Unless I’m invited. The high waisted bottoms are great if, I dunno, you’re lower stomach gets cold easily or something. Best of all, if you have an old black bikini, you’ll look totes stylish pairing a vintage-inspired top with your old bottoms or high waisted bottoms with an old top.

Marc Jacobs nails the Bandaeu top and, unsurprisingly, American Apparel brings it home for the win with one of the only pairs of high waisted bottoms I’m not the least bit scared to try on.

Marc Jacobs Bandeau Top-$85 Nordstrom

Marc Jacobs Bikini Bottoms-$85 Nordstrom

Bandeau Bikini Top -$25 American Apparel
High-Waist Swim Brief -$25 American Apparel

J. Crew and Anthropologie again show some nice looking styles for bikinis, but I heart the reasonably priced Delia’s two-pieces (even if Delia’s brings back Junior High Nostalgia for me).

$34 Urban Outfitters

$52 Top $60 Bottoms J. Crew

$24.50 each Delia’s

$68 each Anthropologie

$17 each Delia’s

$68 each Nordstrom


So the real reason I love throw-back swimwear is that it’s starting to leak in to menswear as well. This is stellar because, um, well I just really like looking at girls wearing sports bras/tank tops and shorty-shorts. It used to be that to find cute vintage-style shorts you had to go digging through the Salvation Army. Not anymore—swim trunks are back on the rise! (Pun intended.) That’s right, I’m talking about a 2-6 inch inseam. Here we find less polka-dots but a lot more pastels, stripes and nautical themes. It’s also worth mentioning that any of these shorts would look great over a one piece or with a bikini top. If traditional bathingsuit tops aren’t your thing, I suggest buying a quick-dry fabric sports bra and pairing it with a white T-shirt/rash guard to get the full 50s look.

Despite being from a website, the trunks were too perfect for Pride month to pass up. Penguin nails it too with a color thats almost too good to be true.

Scotch & Soda – Men’s Short Nylon/Cotton Swim Shorts -$68

Penguin ‘Scalloped’ Volley Swim Trunks -$59 Nordstrom

For whatever reason, Nordstrom has the jump-off on short-inseam trunks with a Deisel pair and a few from companies I’ve never heard of. Ever Swim? Ezekiel? Did I miss something? Anyways, the Topman’s aren’t really that retro, but they’re a must-have for anyone who’s looking to win my heart because fake zippers rule. As always, props to American Apparel for unisex clothing.

$128 Nordstrom

$95 Lacoste

$46 Nordstrom

$54 Nordstrom

$34 American Apparel

$80 -Topman

Alrighty, that about sums it up. So how about I put on my new super neat-o red polka dot swimsuit, you throw on a tank top and some volley-ball shorts and we’ll meet at the beach to split a soda-poppy, bask in the sun and play whiffle b– Oh who am I kidding. We can read magazines under a giant umbrella, complain that it’s too hot, wear SPF 1000 and thank god we weren’t actually born in the 50s.

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Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 261 articles for us.


  1. i’m kind of insulted that you guys are advertising products from target, urban outfitters, and anthropologie considering their conservative (and occasionally homophobic) backgrounds and agendas. you should review the corporate equality index for these locations and do some research on their past politics.

    • It’s funny that you mention this because I just read this article: . I know it’s Miley, but still… I hate Urban Outfitters and their sister stores. The message they deliver is so different than their actual intentions (not to mention the place is a total rip-off). They have a history of contributing money to politicians like Rick Santorum. Can you say vomit? And of course everyone knows about Target’s contribution. I have no respect for these companies and I appreciate your post and you acknowledging this fact. I was surprised to see promotion of these companies on a lesbian website.

    • The thing is, this article isn’t about politics. So yeah, we know that there are big scary corporations out there that hate the gays- whoa, that’s a revelation- but the point of this article is cute vintage swimsuits. Which mean including companies that may have shitty political agendas, but also have cute vintage swimsuits. At the end of the day, it’s still your choice whether or not to shop there.

      • “This article isn’t about politics”, and Autostraddle has EXTENSIVELY educated us about certain corporations and their relation to gay rights.

    • I understand where you’re coming from, but there are some other factors I think you should consider:

      While Urban Oufitter’s president Richard Hayne donated $1000 to Rick Santorum in 2005 (the rest of his contributions were in ’98 prior to Santorum’s anti-gay comments), the CEO of Urban/Anthropologie/Free People is an out gay man with a partner of 30 years.

      Nordstrom: corporate equality index rating of 100.
      J.Crew: had a super queer-positive ad campaign in May 2011. American Apparel:American Apparel.
      Target: protesting is a luxury not everyone has. Target had the most reasonably priced (while still theme-appropriate) one-piece I found.

      • Thanks for the update on these companies. I was always a little confused by their support or lack thereof, & I like their products. Hopefully the original posters will read this.

  2. I love original penguin. Almost all of my short sleeve button downs are from them, their color combinations are great. The swim trunks run narrow depending on if they are original or vintage cut… also century 21 and Nordstrom rack carry their stuff at a goof discount.

  3. Love it! You covered different body types, gender expressions, and budgets. And who doesn’t love girls in bathing suits?

    • Yeah I also heart Ester Williams for realz, but I didn’t want to put up stuff from places people couldn’t return in person since trying to return stuff by mail is super double extra stressful.

  4. I was looking for a vintage-y one-piece and finding it very difficult because I wanted one with underwire/cups and I need more than the D cup some places carry as a “specialty size.” I realized that Americans did not want women above a D to comfortably go to the pool or beach, and eventually found options at Figleaves, Asos, Topshop, and Bravissimo that not only fit my requirements but ALSO cost less than anything I’d seen at Nordstrom, Anthropologie, J.Crew etc. So for other women who need more support and want a one-piece (or modest vintage-inspired two-piece) that is super-cute and not too expensive… try those sites!

  5. WEIRD.

    I was just looking at vintage swimsuits when this popped up on my FB news feed.


    Awesome article, thanks!

  6. Ahh I love all of these….I just wish some of them weren’t so damn expensive. Regardless of their politics, I bathing suit shop exclusively at Target because they’re not gonna charge me $90 for a bikini top. :/

    • I go through the same thing when I’m shopping. I keep thinking “God, I can’t believe I just spent $150 on just a bathing suit.” But then, I realize the time to spend a lot of money on something is when you’re socially expected to be as naked as possible. And then I’m pretty psyched I did.

      That being said, yes, Target and Delia’s are both good for inexpensive but cute swimwear.

  7. I think I love you Lizz. Vintage style swimsuits are the best. The vintage patterns made me think we were gonna talk about making swimwear but I guess I’m the only one who is that crazy. I have a vintage swimsuit pattern and some swimwear fabric so I’m totally going to make one in anticipation of next summer.

  8. “If you’re small busted bandeau tops are wicked cute as long as you don’t plan on wearing one to play water polo in. Unless I’m invited.”

    or me. I’m always down for topless everything.

  9. Sign me up for anything in polka dots! My latest is a sage green with white polka dot bandeau top bikini, in which I look cute as hell (understatement, actually) and which will hopefully not clash horribly with my completely unshaven legs. Take that, old school Lady-dom!

  10. The Anthropologie suits are actually only available on line. BUT you can return them in store. I just bought the Natalie one piece and LOVE it. Last year, I bought that Esther Williams suit from Modcloth but the torso was way too short.

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