Category Archives: History American


Rockaway Beach 1910Summer will soon be upon us — the time of year when many of us will be seen in swim wear or, as it used to be called, bathing costumes. Summer wasn’t always synonymous with a seaside vacation. A convergence of factors in the mid-nineteenth century introduced the annual ritual to American life.

Railways made it possible for the average American to reach the sea, but that didn’t mean men and women could expose bare flesh. The swimming costume called a Princess Suit took its inspiration from Women on the Sand 1920Amelia Bloomer and the Rational Clothing Movement. It was a low-hanging dress over pantaloons, called bloomers. The suits were made of heavy opaque flannel that had a tendency to rise when wet unless weights were sewn into the hems.

Bathing MachinePrincess Suits were only to be worn in the water, so women changed in Bathing Machines. There were two doors. On the shore, the bather entered the high-walled box and changed into the Princess Suit. There was a high shelf to keep the street clothes dry. The Bathing Machine was then wheeled into the water, usually by a horse and driver. The bather then exited through the seaside door and went down the steps to enter the water. Men and women had separate bathing areas, and the machine blocked any view from the shore.

Men's swimwear 1920sMen also kept themselves covered. It was illegal for men to go shirtless on the beach until the 1930s.


In 1907 swimmer Annette Kellerman created a sensation when she wore a form-fitting one piece suit as she demonstrated swimming and diving in a Boston Vaudeville show. The suit lacked a skirt which made it indecent. Kellerman allegedly told the judge she couldn’t swim wearing more fabric than a clothesline. The judge ruled she had to wear the skirt until she entered the water.

In 1913 Carl Jantzen created the first functional two-piece bathing suit that a woman could actually swim in. It was a loose fitting one piece with shorts at the bottom and short sleeves at the top.

In 1914 By the Beautiful Sea was a popular hit. This three minute rendition of the song by Harold Atteridge and Harry Carroll features photos from the age.

Swim suit styles changed in the 1930s. Men no longer wore tops. Women had a plunging neckline at the back, and the sides could be cut away. The use of latex and nylon allowed suits to hug the body more closely. Tanning also became a popular pastime.

During the 1940s war time production rules required a ten percent reduction in the fabric used in women’s swimwear. Two-piece suits with a bare midriff began to appear, though they were not immediately popular. Betty Grable’s famous 1943 pin-up picture demonstrates the look most women were after.

PiazzaArmerina-Mosaik-BikiniIn 1946 designer Louis Reard unveiled the first bikini. Named after Bikini Atoll, a nuclear testing site, the suit was said to inspire a visual explosion. Unable to find a “respectable” model, the job went to Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. One could argue his design wasn’t entirely original, as seen in this mosaic.


Beach_Party_Annette_Funicello_Frankie_Avalon_Mid-1960s157px-Toronto_swimmers_1987Men’s swimwear underwent similar changes from full coverage in the early twentieth century, to bare chests and rayon shorts in the 1930s to Frankie Avalon’s fashion statement in a 1960s Beach Blanket movie. Speedos were popular in the 1980s, and then the trend shifted back to Board Shorts, sometimes called Surf Trunks.

Surf Trunks

Nowadays the range of swimwear goes from almost non-existent to full coverage and nothing seems shocking.


Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons.

Greetings from Rockaway Beach. 1910. Public Domain.

Two Women on Sand. 1920. Public Domain.

Women Posing near Bathing Machine. 1902. Public Domain.

Three Men on a Diving Board. Public Domain.

Annette Kellerman. 1909. Public Domain.

Betty Grable. 1943. Public Domain.

Mosaic at Villa del Casale. Public Domain.

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. About 1963. Public Domain.

Swim Meet at Toronto. 1987. By Hy Crutchett. Creative Commons Attribution.

Surf Trunks. 2007. By x-eyedblonde. Creative Commons Attribution.

“From Tank Tops to Briefs.” Daily Mail. June 8, 2016.

Andrea Cheng. “See How Swimsuits Have Evolved.” InStyle. May 19, 2016.

Kiri Picone. “Appreciate Your Bikini.” All That Is Interesting. Feb. 27, 2018.



Presidents’ Day is meant to honor all American presidents, but if any president comes to mind, it’s usually George Washington. A self-made gentleman, Washington became a consummate politician. Commander of the Continental Army. Chair of the Constitutional Congress. First President of the United States. He had his detractors, but most Americans saw the Virginian as… Continue Reading

Thanksgiving Trivia

If you’re looking for silly activities after your Thanksgiving meal, why not play Thanksgiving Trivia? Category 1: How did Thanksgiving get started? Before Thanksgiving meant too much food, football games, and the Macy’s Day Parade, it was a day to thank God for, in the case of Pilgrims, sustenance itself. The first Pilgrims to America… Continue Reading

Thoughts on Weekends aka Work-Life Balance

On Fridays I post a floral picture and wish everyone a good weekend. But even as I extend my wishes, I realize that what I think of when I use the word “weekend” isn’t accurate. Many people work on weekends as part of their regular hours. Others bring work home. I did that for years.… Continue Reading

Wash Day Miracle

We don’t think much about washing clothes. Which is to say most of us don’t think it’s an enjoyable occupation. This is true whether we take our washing to the laundromat, or have the luxury of a home machine. For some bizarre reason, every time I use the washing machine, I think it’s some kind… Continue Reading

Washing Machine Leads to 1920s Scandal

This started out to be a blog about early labor saving devices, so I started researching washing “machines.” The machine on the left has a tub, agitator, and wringer. All improved the washing experience. As a term, “Washing Machines” wasn’t getting me what I wanted, so I entered “Wash Day,” which led me to a 1915… Continue Reading


The first official Decoration Day was on May 30, 1868 at Arlington Cemetery. General James Garfield gave a speech, and 5,000 participants decorated the 20,000+ Union and Confederate graves. Local observances soon took place throughout the country as a time to remember and a time to enjoy ceremonies, parades, and speeches. After World War I,… Continue Reading


Once upon a time, perhaps around 1955, there were four career paths for women. In alphabetical order women could become nurses, secretaries, teachers, or wives. Wives, of course, didn’t work. [Note the fictional aspect here. Of course wives worked, and there were lots of jobs done by women. But technically a job isn’t a career.… Continue Reading


Life is stressful these days. It must be time for a cupcake break. Fun, exuberant little cakes, the cup cake is almost sincere in its potential for simplicity. There’s automatic portion control. The little cakes bake more quickly than regular cakes which makes them energy efficient. Serving cupcakes, especially with their paper wrappers, is less… Continue Reading

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