Is there anything more iconic than a swimsuit model? Between one campaign and another, bikini models have inevitably changed the world with their empowering accents and sensual poses, shaping a society that sees women wearing whatever they feel like.
There’s no surprise many girls dream of a swimsuit modeling career, yet probably very few are aware of how hard it actually is to become one. Working as a bikini model takes a lot of effort, not to mention the fact that one must have a little bit of talent for posing properly and naturally in front of the camera.
Jump to the list of the 45 best bikini models of all time, and if you decide to become one, have a look at what it takes to start a career as a swimsuit model!
Best Swimsuit/ Bikini Models of All Time: Contents
Becoming a bikini model is not that easy, but it’s so inspiring to check out who the best bikini models of the industry are/ have been. These are the swimsuit models that have made it big, and will hardly go forgotten any time soon!
1. Elle Macpherson
Starting off our list of the best bikini models with legend Elle Macpherson was mandatory. Nicknamed “the Body” because she literally had the perfect bikini model body, Elle Macpherson will always hold the icon status of the world’s best bikini models of all time, with the future swimsuit models looking up to her for the best source of inspiration.
2. Adriana Lima
Predictably, this list includes a lot of Brazilian models. One of the most renowned is Adriana Lima, who also happens to be one of the most acclaimed Victoria Secret’s Angels. Both a legendary bikini and lingerie model, Adriana Lima is already in the Hall of Fame of the best supermodels of all time.
3. Marisa Miller
From one gorgeous bikini and lingerie model to another! For surfer Marisa Miller, becoming a lingerie model was naturally easy, and she now loves spending time both in and nearby the water, whether it is a photo shoot or her surfboard.
4. Brooklyn Decker
Actress-to-be, Brooklyn Decker hit the spotlight with the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition’s cover, where she wore one of the sexiest yellow bikinis ever designed. We don’t know if she will keep on posing as a bikini model in the years to come, but she won’t surely go forgotten as such.
5. Rebecca Romijn
Here we are with another bikini model turned actress. Before becoming Mystique for the X-Men, Romijn worked as one of the world’s most requested swimsuit models, a career that probably helped her become self-confident in front of the cameras.
6. Rachel Hunter
Is Rachel Hunter the Dorian Gray of the fashion industry? Given the fact that she hasn’t changed a bit from her first cover as a bikini model, we bet the answer is affirmative!
7. Niki Taylor
Blonde bombshell Niki Taylor hit the spotlight at 15, when she was discovered, and instantly landed on the front cover of Vogue. She then soon became a renowned bikini model, making it to Sports Illustrated twice.
8. Robyn Lawley
Like the most iconic lingerie models of all time, bikini models can also be (and we are glad actually are) plus-size. Although only (and unfortunately) a few plus-size bikini models make it to magazine covers, some of them hit it big becoming internationally famous. Robyn Lawley, a.k.a. the first plus-size bikini model to appear in the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is one of them.
9. Paulina Porizkova
No words can describe how impactful Paulina Porizkova’s work has been for the fashion industry. She was on almost every Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue’s cover from 1983 to 2004, also working as a brand ambassador for brands such as Estée Lauder and Coca-Cola. As if being one of the world’s most legendary swimsuit models wasn’t enough, she even acted as a judge at TV contest America’s Next Top Model.
10. Stephanie Seymour
Glamorous at heart and rock at soul, Stephanie Seymour is one of the most famous swimsuit models of the Nineties, and those who love hard rock-related gossip probably remember her love story with Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose.
11. Gisele Bündchen
One of the world’s highest paid supermodels of all time, Brazilian beauty Gisele Bündchen also worked as a swimsuit model, helping many brands reach their now iconic status.
12. Naomi Campbell
Still one of the industry’s most in-demand models, Naomi Campbell is often recalled for her work as a runway top model, although her career was definitely more diverse. She covered many Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues, raising the bar higher for anyone who dreams of a future bikini model career.
13. Cheryl Tiegs
One of the decades that contributed to starting the whole bikini model craze the most was the Seventies, the absolute queen of which was Cheryl Tiegs. Will we ever forget her jaw-dropping poses? Probably not!
14. Heidi Klum
Like Campbell, Heidi Klum is hardly remembered for her amazing work as a bikini model. The German top model, however, did score some Sports Illustrated covers a few times, which fueled the rumors considering her Elle Macpherson’s official rival.
15. Alessandra Ambrosio
Swimwear model and designer, Alessandra Ambrosio is slowly turning her career from a swimsuit wearer to a designer. Given the fact that she will always be one of the best Victoria’s Secret Angels of all time, we couldn’t be happier and trust her skills more.
16. Kate Upton
Relatively new in the swimsuit modeling sphere, Kate Upton has already left a huge mark on the industry ever since fronting the Sports Illustrated 2013 Issue, with her career being relentlessly promising.
17. Anne Sergeyevna Vyalitsyna
Bikini model Anne Vyalitsyna is definitely a role model for whoever dreams of becoming a high-end swimwear model. She has appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for ten years in a row from 2005 to 2015, and is now busy working as a runway model for top names like Chanel and Prada.
18. Christie Brinkley
“Uptown Girl” Christie Brinkley burst onto the scene in the Eighties, becoming an absolute icon within a few years. Scoring a few Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers later, she still is one of the world’s best swimwear models of all time.
19. Bar Refaeli
Often regarded as the first Israeli model to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Bar Refaeli has also worked as a bikini model for various other magazines, such as Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and Esquire, and we bet she won’t retire from the industry soon.
20. Tyra Banks
Of course, we had to include ANTM queen Tyra Banks in this list! Besides being an internationally famous runway supermodel, Tyra Banks was often hired as a swimsuit model as well, and even reached the bikini models’ highest goal by posing for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1996 and 1997.
21. Judit Masco
Ever since appearing in the Sports Illustrated 1990 Swimsuit Issue, Barcelona-born Masco has never stopped being considered a living legend. Thanks to her swimwear modeling career, she even received the Elle Woman of the Year Award in 2003.
22. Molly Sims
Sims followed a similar path too, hitting it big in various TV programs as soon as she decided to end her swimsuit modeling career. She is nonetheless one of the world’s most unforgettable bikini models of all time.
23. Nina Agdal
Fresh-faced Nina Agdal is the bikini model of the moment, as she started her career not that while ago. She made her first appearance as a swimsuit model in 2012, and has never stopped making it big ever since.
24. Petra Nemcova
Featured in various high-end fashion campaigns such as Bulgari’s, Czech model Petra Nemcova became an it-girl in the Nineties as soon as she focused on advertising swimwear. She even got captured by iconic photographer Walter Iooss back in 2003, for what could be regarded as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s most memorable issue.
25. Daniela Pestova
Self-proclaimed “bread addicted” Pestova has always maintained a relatively low public profile, while working hard and creating a success career as a swimsuit model. No doubt, she is the living proof one can have an astounding modeling career while not giving up carbs.
26. Laetitia Casta
French beauty Laetitia Casta did so many things in the industry during the Nineties, it is impossible to keep track of them all. One of her many talents was modeling bikinis in front of the camera, the pictures of which are still some of the most iconic ever made.
27. Carolyn Murphy
Panama-born Carolyn Murphy was discovered at a young age, due to her jaw-dropping beauty and innate modeling talent. She quickly became a renowned swimsuit model in the early ‘00s, the incomes of which were vastly destined for her college studies!
28. Jessica Gomes
Australia-born and of both Portuguese and Chinese descents, Jessica Gomes worked as a swimsuit model mostly from the early ‘00s up to 2013, appearing both in Vogue and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
29. Ana Beatriz Barros
Discovered at the age of 13 by a representative from Elite Model Management, Barros has appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition seven times, namely from 2002 to 2007. She then headed to Victoria’s Secret, the performances of which are still vivid in everyone’s hearts.
30. Cindy Crawford
Still (and probably forever) considered a sex symbol in numerous countries, Crawford gained fame in the 1980s and 1990s, walking some of the industry’s most prestigious runway shows. Although mainly her supermodel career is the one many remember the most, Crawford’s swimsuit modeling works are not something one should soft-pedal, as her swimwear photos got captured by some of the world’s best photographers.
31. Veronica Varekova
Inspired to become a bikini model after someone in a restaurant told her she should try it out, Varekova was a Sports Illustrated cover girl habitué from 1999-2002, even though she had never imagined becoming that famous.
32. Irina Shayk
Russian stunner Irina Shayk is the first Russian to ever grace the cover of the Late Show magazine, but her success even includes being in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for a total of 7 years in a row, from 2007 to 2014.
33. Eva Herzigova
Supermodel Eva Herzigova was one of the dominant faces of the modeling industry in the 1990s, as she worked both as a runway and bikini model. Often dubbed as the modern Marilyn Monroe, she has also starred in several movies.
34. Bridget Hall
Among all the swimsuit models, Bridget Hall is the one that started her career the soonest, as she was discovered at the age of 10. She instantly started working as a successful bikini model as soon as she was older enough to pose in a bikini, and is still making it big the industry.
35. Candice Swanepoel
South African Swanepoel gained famed around in 2010, when Victoria’s Secret tapped her for its Fashion Show. Both a renowned lingerie and bikini model, Swanepoel got even named #1 on Maxim’s Hot 100 list.
36. Daniella Sarahyba
You know good genes run through a family when both the mother and the daughter become highly successful swimsuit models. That is what happened within the Sarahyba family, where both the mother and the daughter became successful models. Daughter Daniella is one of the many Brazilian swimsuit models that made it to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and is now under contract with the internationally renowned modeling agency IMG.
37. Kathy Ireland
Appearing in 12 different Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues is a hard job, but Kathy Ireland knew how to do it! Now retired as a bikini model, Kathy Ireland works as the CEO of her own company “Kathy Ireland Worldwide.”
38. Josephine Skriver
Once you make it to the Victoria’s Secret Swimwear catalog, you know the world will starts looking at you differently. That’s what happened to Danish stunner Skriver, who is now considered one of the world’s best swimsuit models ever.
39. Gigi Hadid
Like Swanepoel, Hadid is a relatively fresh face in the world of swimsuit modeling, but we bet she will reach the icon status, as she becomes the star of the upcoming Victoria’s Secret Swimwear catalogs.
40. Carol Alt
Ever since the Eighties, whoever wanted to make it big as a bikini model had big shoes to fill, namely Carol Alt’s. Carlol Alt literally ruled the Eighties with her sexy poses and toned body, which looked flawlessly stunning in all of her Eighties-, Baywatch-style-inspired swimsuits.
41. Emily Ratajkowski
Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski might be one of the shortest models in the fashion industry, but she’s definitely also one of the most successful and hottest swimsuit models. Her appearance in the music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” in 2013 is what made her internationally famous, and was also featured in the 2014 and 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues.
42. Sara Sampaio
Portuguese beauty Sara Sampaio is not only one of the fresh-faced swimsuit models making it big now, but she even won Rookie of the Year, when she first appeared in the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She is also a rising Victoria’s Secret Angel, and has so far modeled swimwear for Italian label Calzedonia as well.
43. Emily DiDonato
Emily DiDonato’s natural beauty stuns and tells a lot about her Italian, Irish, and Native American ancestry. She was discovered when she was just 10, and later it was in 2013 when she made her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue debut. Her natural, wild beauty is perfectly complemented by her toned body, which has modeled Victoria’s Secret pieces as well.
44. Chrissy Teigen
Chrissy Teigen made her modeling debut exactly as a bikini model, when she landed the 2010 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and later covered it in 2014. She is now represented by world-famous IMG Models, while also co-hosts Lip Sync Battle on Spike TV.
45. Isabeli Fontana
Another Brazilian bombshell, Isabeli Fontana was discovered at 13, and at the age of 16 appeared in the Victoria’s Secret lingerie catalogue that actually caused controversy for the brand had casted a model younger than 18. She was later on signed by luxury brands Valentino, Versace, and Ralph Lauren, and was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1999.
The first thing you should do to start working as a swimsuit model is asking yourself why you want to become one. Is it just for the fame? Or is it for boosting your self-confidence and learning as much as you can from an extremely interesting field of the fashion industry?
While the former might be a not that strong reason behind your dream to begin such a stressful and difficult career (fame comes and goes), the latter is definitely stronger and more motivating in the long term.
Being a bikini model requires perseverance and passion, so make sure these two feelings are there when starting to look out for photographers specialized in swimsuit modeling.
In order to become a bikini model, you’ll need the best portfolio you could think of, and cute Instagram photos are definitely not enough (though they may give a little help).
The second important step is to take a few modeling classes. Although it is not mandatory, many underestimate the power of a good pose, especially if one has never been captured by a professional photographer before.
Once you have your portfolio, it is time to look for modeling agencies that might represent you. Make a list and cross-check every single agency on the Internet to avoid scams. Search for opinions and feedbacks; your future self will thank you.
While doing all those things, remember to always eat healthy! Although bikini models don’t need to be necessarily skinny, they do need to look as healthy as they can, as capturing a bikini or a swimwear piece means the model’s skin, hair, and body parts are going to be included in the shot. Whether you are a plus-size bikini model or not, looking healthy and toned is mandatory, and this, of course, also involves fitness and exercising on a regular basis.
Last but not least, never underestimate your level of “shyness”! Beachgoers often stare at the models whenever there is a photo shoot going on, which means that besides the photographer and the photographer’s crew, you will have tons of people staring at you. Make sure you are ok with that!
How to know if you ultimately made it as a bikini model? Well, aside from being featured in various magazines and ad campaigns, two are the main things to cross off, namely the Victoria’s Secret Swimsuit catalog, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.
While being part of the former usually means that you will soon enter the Hall of Fame of the iconic VS model squad, the latter will actually give you the key of the Modeling Hall of Fame, as only 25 bikini models per year land the pages of the highly anticipated Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Photos via Instagram