Retro Swimsuit Inspiration From 8 Classic Hollywood Sirens

Leah Bourne

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Whether you browse the bathing suit aisle in stores or prefer to shop your swimsuits online, it’s pretty apparent that the style du jour has shifted from skimpy string bikinis to vintage-inspired cuts like retro bathing dresses to bikinis with high-waisted bottoms. Universally flattering, statement-making, and totally glamorous, this is definitely a trend we can get behind.

MORE: How to Look Thinner in a Bathing Suit

In need of ideas for pulling off some of these old-school swimsuit styles, we went back to the source: The original bathing beauties of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s–women like Brigitte Bardot, Rita Hayworth, and Liz Taylor. These archive photos will have you looking to update your beach style, stat.

MORE: 40 of the Raddest Beach-Ready Swimsuits Under $200

Brigitte Bardot

Photo: Getty

1. Brigitte Bardot

French star Brigitte Bardot practically lived in a bikini during her younger years, and it’s easy to see why. A few summer beach style tips to steal from Bardot: She tended to go for simple bikinis, with underwire tops that most definitely emphasized her assets. She’s also the master when it comes to tousled beach waves, and usually sported her signature makeup style, wing tip eyeliner, at the beach.


Photo: Getty

2. Esther Williams

Pin-up Esther Williams began her career as a teenage swim champion reigning for more than a decade in a genre she created–The Aqua Musical. Given how her tied her career was to swimming, it should come as no surprise that her swimsuit game was seriously on point. We love the above look—a bikini and matching sarong.


Photo: Getty


3. Elizabeth Taylor

One of the most iconic bathing suit photos in history, women the world over are still trying to mimic Elizabeth Taylor’s beach style from this 1953 snap. Luckily, brands that range from ASOS to Norma Kamali are stocked with plenty of retro one-pieces that look like they were ripped from this photo.


Photo: Getty

4. Rita Hayworth 

While Hayworth was best known for wearing glamorous gowns during her heyday in the 1940s, this photo is all the proof you need that she looked just as good in a shiny black one-piece. Steal a few style cues from Hayworth here—namely her cute headscarf and her swimsuit’s relatively modest cut—and we promise you won’t go wrong.


Photo: Getty

5. Ursula Andress

Bond girl Ursula Andress made her mark in film when she stepped out of the ocean wearing a dripping bikini in the now-iconic scene from 1962’s “Dr. No.” A few Ursula bathing suit takeaways? Don’t be afraid to wear a fashion-forward suit—and kitten heels with your swimsuit. So retro!


Photo: Getty

6. Ginger Rogers

Screen legend and longtime Fred Astaire collaborator Ginger Rogers certainly knew how to score high style marks while simply hanging out by the pool. This belted bathrobe number she wore as a cover up in 1934 couldn’t be chicer almost a century later. Designers, take note—we want one!


Photo: Getty

7. Marilyn Monroe

Screen siren Marilyn Monroe continues to be an inspiration for women when they set about getting dressed for a day at the pool or the beach. Though she was primarily known for wearing retro one-pieces, we’re particularly smitten with some of the bikinis she chose, including this high-waisted, ruffled polka dot number.

Portrait of American actress Janet Leigh (1927 - 2004) as she leans against a patio chair and wears a purple bathing suit next to a large swimming pool, 1950s. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)

Photo: Getty

8. Janet Leigh

Starlet Janet Leigh—best known for her role in 1960’s “Psycho”—also had serious swimsuit game. Here, she’s pictured in a super-structured lavender bathing dress that looks just as appropriate for a glamourous pool day as it does for sunset cocktails.