Smells like teen spirit

To begin, the 1990s were years when the pace of life started to speed up radically. Unprecedented globalization resulting from the rapid development of the World Wide Web, and common access to media like cable television, made the sharing of images and data in the Western world simpler and faster. These facts were not lost on companies in the swimwear and related businesses. They took advantage of them to promote their brands.

Developed by Guest Curator, James Hanley

Scroll through the timeline below

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  • Women's Swimwear

    Swimwear fashion split into two camps in this designer-obsessed decade. One was ostentatiously glamorous, heavy on gold satin and logos. The other focused on minimalist clean lines.

  • Baywatch

    The television series Baywatch had an unprecedented impact on the market. Running from 1989 through 1999 in its original format it became, through syndication, the most-watched television show in the world, with an estimated weekly audience of 1.1 billion viewers. The swimsuit that served as the star Pamela Anderson’s costume inspired innumerable copies that were worn by women everywhere. Anderson’s suit also helped to revive the market for one-piece swimwear, which had waned since the 1960s.

  • Men's Swimwear

    The bathing suits worn by men on the beach in the 1990s, and pretty much ever since have fallen into three categories based on their length and how snuggly they fit. This first is the form-fitting, low waisted, high-cut leg style the public associates with the Speedo brand. The second is the traditional swim trunk. These could be made from knit synthetic fabrics, cotton, or blends. Sometimes they have flies, waists are drawstring or fitted, certain types have pockets either inside, or outside of the suit, but the characteristic they all share is their moderate length.

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit

  • Sunglasses

    Once again, for both men and women, the accessory that defined the wearer’s sense of style at the beach was the pair of sunglasses they chose. Asymmetrically shaped frames, sunglasses with a futuristic appearance, shutter designs, oversized versions, and even traditional models like the wayfarer and aviator, largely gave way to shades with oval lenses in various shapes held together with metal or plastic frames. Cat-eye shaped sunglasses also made a comeback.

  • Beach Towels

    In the 1990s cartoon and Disney characters were favorites among the many subjects that appeared on beach towels. Among others, they included Garfield, Scooby-Doo, The Little Mermaid, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Space Jam Michael Jordan and the Retro Looney Tunes Characters.

  • Camera

    The 1990s witnessed a proliferation in the array of compact 35mm cameras available on the market. Physically they were all similar in size and appearance. The functions incorporated into them varied as did their quality and price. These cameras were designed to meet the requirements of casual users whose major interest was in recording gatherings with friends and family in clear, well lit photographs.

  • Hawaiian Trunks

    A hybrid of the two styles, which incorporated a band of a “Hawaiian” floral pattern around the middle of the thigh, was a popular alternative.

  • Music

    The Sony Walkman and Discman made significant headway in securing segments of the market. They were viewed as status symbols. Sales of Sony’s compact disc player really took off in 1997 when Electronic Skip Protection made them practical in rough-and-tumble settings like the shore. Sony products signaled a sea change in how people listened to recorded music.

  • Tankini

    Introduced by Anne Cole, whose father, Fred Cole, was the founder of Cole of California, one of the leading companies in the swimwear industry, Anne offered the tankini under her own label Anne Cole Swimwear. Tankinis combined a tank top, mostly made of spandex-and-cotton or Lycra-and-nylon, and a bikini bottom. They were hailed as a breakthrough providing women the freedom of a bikini with the more modest coverage of a one-piece bathing suit.

  • MPMan

    Toward the end of the decade the first MP3 player was launched by an obscure South Korean company named SaeHan. Their product, the MPMan reached the market in March of 1998 more than three years ahead of the iPod.

  • Changing Styles

    Toward the end of the decade, a major new trend started to gain popularity among women on America’s beaches. This was
    the mix-and-match movement that would continue to shape the market in the early 2000s. Separate tops and bottoms offered by manufacturers in coordinating colors and patterns provided women with the opportunity to expand their swimsuit wardrobes through different combinations.