Since the Sixties, the evolution of the bikini, the ultimate holiday accessory, has been captured in the Pirelli calendar's sexy photographs
he whole point of going on holiday to some far-flung destination is so that you can sit around by the pool wearing the skimpiest, scantiest bikini or one-piece without the slightest fear of running into anybody you know. Your dimpled, dough-like body might not be used to such exposure. And without anybody to tell you otherwise, you can imagine that you look like a Pirelli girl.

In the Sixties, the Pirelli girl looked like a proper little beach bunny in her newfangled nylon two-piece. The only problem was, as soon as she took a dip in the sea, her pert bra and knickers would sag miserably: it was not a pretty sight. The solution came in the Seventies when string replaced fabric and swimwear became so insubstantial that there was nothing left to sag. Dental floss, it was called, as the thong and macrame string bra left nothing whatsoever to the imagination. By the Eighties, things had got a little more serious. Swimwear came over all high-tech with Lycra swimsuits cut high to the waist to emphasise those well-toned legs and thighs that were the product of hours of straining and stretching at the gym. And what of the Nineties, the decade that is almost old enough to be part of fashion history itself? According to the Pirelli girl, swimwear has become more decorative than functional. But some things never change - having a great body helps. Clockwise from top left: Seventies hipsters were about to be overtaken by the thong, Pirelli 1970, photographed by Francis Giacobetti; still buttoned-up but with a flash of midriff, Pirelli 1965, photographed by Brian Duffy; in the days before Lycra, bikini bottoms had a habit of sagging when wet, Pirelli 1964, photographed by Robert Freeman; by the late Nineties, swimwear was about making a statement, not getting a tan, Pirelli 1997, photographed by Richard Avedon; doing away with the bikini altogether, Pirelli 1995, photographed by Richard Avedon; making a splash in a painted-on suit, Pirelli 1984, photographed by Uwe Ommer

All photographs are from `The Pirelli Calendars Complete' (pounds 29.95) published in paperback on 11 January by Thames and Hudson