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For those of you who are lucky enough to be transitioning over to Spring and Summer, you’ll surely have bikinis and swimwear on the brain. When we can finally get out and have an epic pool party or stroll the beach (after the virus that must not be named has been banished), the perfect bikini will be a cherished item. 

When we think of 80s women’s fashion, we often think of acid-wash denim, bright makeup, big hair, frou-frou prom dresses, lycra, and leg warmers. However, swimwear in the 1980s was just as worthy of researching and recreating. We ran down a rabbit hole of 80s Sports Illustrated covers and candid pics of beach babes in the best bikinis of the decade, and boy, we found some gems. 

Let’s look back to the 80s to pore over some stellar beachwear trends for retro swimsuit style inspiration! 


Bright neon bikinis 

The 80s and neon go together like peanut butter and jelly. Yellow, pink, and green bikinis in highlighter-neon shades were popular, often in the form of strapless bikini tops tied in the center.

Other bikinis were more athletic in styling (which we’ll explore soon), with black zippers and racerbacks.

Some were sports-bra style with thick straps and high-cut bottoms, in zig-zag neon patterns or block colors. Channel your inner So-Cal 1980s beach babe with a look-at-me neon bikini next time you dabble in the blue.


  • Fuse 1950s with 1980s with a high-waisted boy-cut bikini bottom and a knotted-center halterneck bikini top in a block neon shade to flatter your skin tone 
  • Look for a bikini in soft, ribbed fabric with a cut-off hem, scoop-neck tank style top and high-waisted bottoms in a printed neon color story. Throw on cut-off denim shorts and an open Hawaiian shirt between swim missions 
  • Go tacky-glam with a sheer, embellished maxi over-dress to wear poolside (refer to that Sex and the City Playboy mansion episode…you’ll get what I mean)

High-cut bottoms (Baywatch alert)

Bikini bottoms in the 1980s were exceptionally high-cut, sitting way up on the hip, elongating the leg and cutting fine into the bikini line. Some featured a small strap connecting the front and back (see Emma Samms’ 1988 Sports Illustrated blue and black bikini), while others had a fuller waistband. 

The most famous swimsuits in pop culture have to be those iconic red one-pieces from Baywatch, with high-cut bottoms and scooped necklines to show off those famous assets. In more recent years, sexy-centric celebs in the Kar-Jenner clan have brought the high-cut bottom back with a vengeance. 


  • Make the high-cut bikini bottom work for you by picking the right waistband. Want a little tummy support? A thick, wide waistband will add coverage while still exposing those lovely legs 
  • Throw out the bikini and go for a one-piece if you’d like a little more coverage and support. Counter the sexy high-cut vibe with a high-neck, racer-back athletic top and short sarong wrap
  • Strut out with confidence, your body is awesome 

The style: prints (neon, graphic, and animal)

Prints were big in the 80s, in swimwear and general mainstream clothing alike. Graphic prints featuring squiggles, dots, and triangles in neon hues were ultra-popular, as were sexy, exotic animal prints.

Actress Morgan Fairchild (aka Chandler’s Mom) wore an ultra-revealing animal print one-piece showcasing the high-cut bottom and strappy, open back popular at the time.

She also had big, fluffy hair and a hazily-lit background, but that’s another story for another day. 


  • Pick one or the other if you’re not used to bold prints. For example, a plain black bikini bottom (always handy to have) and pair with a printed top. You could also go for a Hawaiian tropical print, or the classic “squiggle and triangle” 80s favorite 
  • For extra coverage, try a ¾-sleeve high-cut one-piece in animal print for a sporty silhouette fused with a tacky-glam aesthetic 


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Athletic styling 

What’s more, the 80s were a time when aerobics and lycra were staples, so it makes sense for swimwear to follow suit. Swimwear in the 80s wasn’t all string bikinis and fun prints, it was also often sporty and athletic, with brands such as Body Glove leading the market. 

Kylie Jenner helped to bring Body Glove back into the modern mindset when she wore her Mom’s (“momager” Kris Jenner) bright pink one-piece. Sporty swimwear often featured front zips, racerback styles, high necklines, and high-vis neon tones. 


  • Make the most of extra coverage and sun protection with a cropped full-sleeved top and classic bikini bottoms. Find a suit with a zipper at the neckline so you can customize how much you expose 
  • Wear a high-neck, racer-back one-piece with a pair of mini board shorts or booty shorts for between swims 

The style: ultra-shiny metallics 

Teeny, tiny bikinis with triangle tops connected with spindly strings were popular in the 80s as a follow-on from the 70s. In the 80s, that spangly Vegas glam and techno culture came out in the form of shiny, metallic bikinis. 

Supermodel Elle MacPherson wore a metallic navy-blue one-piece on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1987, a true picture of 1980s style. It was high-cut on the bottom, low cut at the top, and showcased the tanned, toned, and athletic body-type coveted in the decade.

We can give you the swimsuit, but we’re not making any promises on the body (especially after March/April 2020, if you know what I mean?)


  • Go all-out and wear a high-shine metallic string bikini, no matter your body type, shape, or size 
  • Balance out the garishness (a fabulous kind of garish, at that) with a simple one-piece style with thicker straps and regular bottoms (the type you wore at swimming class as a kid)

About The Author

May is totally crazy about the 80s and everything the decade inspired! Having grown up in a household that was totally taken over by 80s music and fashion its only natural that May lives and breathes the 80s!

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