Victoria Secrets to Sports Illustrated: Stunning 90s Bikini Trends

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One of the most fascinating ways to track the journey of both fashion and society is by studying swimsuits throughout the decades. We’re in for plenty of skin, one-pieces, two-pieces, metallics, embellishments, and some serious Summer nostalgia. 

The trend: high-cut bikini briefs and one-pieces 

Swimwear in the 80s and 90s was all about elongating those sexy legs with high-cut briefs and one-piece bottoms. Sports Illustrated model Angie Everhart demonstrated the high-cut bikini multiple times throughout the 90s, most memorably in the zebra-print bikini against a desert landscape. 

Google any 1990s swimsuit competition and you’ll be bombarded with images of tanned skin, fluffy hair, bold colors, and ultra-high cut bikini bottoms. In more recent years, the high-cut bathing suit has burst back into fashion thanks to Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid, and the snap-happy Instagram model clan. 

How to style it: 

  • Balance the exposed leg with a high-cut, long-sleeved one-piece that provides extra sun protection and a sporty-sexy aesthetic 
  • Pair a high-cut bikini bottom with a long-line bandeau swimsuit top (for smaller-busted gals who don’t require lots of support)
  • High-waisted bikini bottoms that cover and hold in the lower tummy while cutting high on the hip are a great balance of exposure and coverage in all the right places 
  • If in doubt, throw on a sarong! 

Sporty one-pieces 

We can’t get through a 90s swimsuit post without mentioning ‘Baywatch’ and those unforgettable red one-pieces. Not only were they cut high on the hip but they were cut low on the bust (shout-out to Pammy!). 

How to style it: 

  • Go full Baywatch with a plain red one-piece cut ultra-high and ultra-low. Why not?
  • Add extra 90s nostalgia to your one-piece with cut-outs, neon block colors (a wee 80s touch), metallics, and zip-fronts (a-la 90s Elle MacPherson) 

Read:

11 of the Lesser Known Celebrity Fashion Moments of the 90s

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Liz Hurley: Daring and Powerful

Tomboy tankinis 

Tankinis were the perfect compromise between a bikini and a one-piece, great for girls who were transitioning between the two. 90s tankinis were often floral-printed, with thin straps and contrasting white piping (bringing back memories of 90s Delia’s catalogs!?).

Stunner Judit Masco wore a yellow tankini on the cover of Sports Illustrated in February 1990, showing that the sexiest swimsuits aren’t always the skimpiest. 

How to style it: 

  • Pair boyleg bikini bottoms with a simple tank swim top for an understated, sporty aesthetic 
  • Try high-cut, high-waisted bikini bottoms with a long-line bandeau that hits just below the navel 
  • For extra tummy control and coverage, pick a ruched tank top and high-waisted bikini briefs 

Glamour-girl metallic bikinis 

Sun-catching metallics were all the rage in 90s swimwear style, popular on magazine covers, runways, and catalogs. Icon Tyra Banks wore a high-shine silver metallic one-piece in a 1997 Victoria’s Secret swimsuit catalog and a gun-metal metallic string bikini on a 1997 cover of Sports Illustrated. We were certainly rooting for her! (00’s reality TV watchers will get that reference). 

How to style it: 

  • Hit the aqua in the ultimate 2019 trend (micro-throwback!) with a holographic bikini. A silver base hue that shifts blue and green with movement 
  • Be the belle of the beach in a metallic one-piece with a sporty cut (high neck and racer-back) juxtaposed with a shell-like shimmer finish

Tiny string triangle bikinis in neon tones (and the odd diamante)

90s bikinis (especially those found on magazine covers) were often tiny, barely-there, and held together with the skimpiest strings. The colors were neon, the skin was sun-kissed, and coverage was an afterthought. 

Let’s take it a step further with bejeweling: the Chanel S/S 1995 runway saw Naomi Campbell, Cyndi Crawford, and Claudia Schiffer in teeny tiny string bikinis encrusted with silver diamantes and accessorised with silver diamante waist chains. Wow. 

How to style it: 

  • Make sure you are comfortable and supported, first and foremost. This may mean picking a more supportive, structured bikini top and leaving the strings to the bottoms 
  • Pair an embellished string bikini top with high-waisted denim cut-offs and a cotton shirt worn open (cool-factor and sun protection)

Grown-up padded bra-style bikini tops 

Bikini tops in the 90s were often in the style of a structured, padded bra, complete with underwiring and contoured seams. Salma Hayek wowed the world with her brown underwire bikini set in ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’, and Shannen Doherty as Brenda on ‘90210’ also favored this look.

We saw this look more recently in a 2015 Victoria’s Secret swimwear shoot that featured pastel-toned structured bikini tops and low-slung bikini bottoms. 

How to style it: 

  • Make sure you go in-store for the perfect fit, as an ill-fitting underwire is not only uncomfortable but it can contort your chest in an unflattering way 
  • Look for an underwire bikini top with adjustable straps so you can go halterneck, strapless, or classic 

Sweet sunflower print 

You cannot tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Picture yellow sunflowers on a blue-purple background…there it is! Sunflowers were second only to the ‘Sun, moon, and stars’ print true 90s kids coveted. Tori Spelling wore this look in a shot from ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ with a structured, bra-style bikini and high-waisted denim short-shorts. Classic. 

How to style it: 

  • Try a simple one-piece swimsuit with a round neckline and thick straps in retro 90s sunflower print 
  • Pair a sunflower-print long-line bikini top with a high-waisted tummy controlling bikini bottom in classic black