Category Archives: History

SWIMWEAR BY THE SEA

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.

AKellermanUnitard1909

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.

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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.

 

LADIES, MOTHERS DAY & AFTERNOON TEA

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day, a commemorative day established by Anna Marie Jarvis in 1911 as a tribute to her mother and all mothers. In 1911 the day usually involved church services. Over time the celebration evolved into a sentimental event with all manner of gifts and cards for mom. In recent years mothers, daughters,… Continue Reading

Natural Gardens in China & Japan

Long before Capability Brown improved English landscapes, Chinese and Japanese garden designers created “natural” gardens. Ji Cheng (1582-1642) observed in the seventeenth century that the purpose of a Chinese garden is to “hide the vulgar and the common as far as the eye can see, and include the excellent and the splendid.” In this photo, there… Continue Reading

The Landscape Gardens of Capability Brown

Although gardening takes place all year round, it comes to mind most readily in the spring. April is a good month for planting trees, shrubs, and annual flowering bulbs that bloom in summer. These might include dahlias and gladiolas. It’s also time to plant seeds for marigolds and zinnias. If you go to your local… Continue Reading

WASHINGTON’S MONUMENT

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

Valentine Traditions

Did you notice? Before Holiday Decorations came down, Valentine’s Day cards were out. Once again a commemorative day many dread is upon us. It wasn’t always so. St. Valentine of Rome didn’t give flowers, candy, or cards. He gave soldiers the marriage sacrament. Claudius II declared soldiers couldn’t marry. He thought it reduced their fighting… Continue Reading

Journals, Peacocks, and New Year Resolutions

  “We will open the book,” wrote the poet Edith Lovejoy Pierce. “The pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called opportunity, and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” Do you have a blank journal where you jot down musings, observations, or reminders? Many of us… Continue Reading

HOGMANAY & THE VICTORIAN NEW YEAR

Sometimes it seems that without Queen Victoria and Prince Albert western culture might not have any traditions to see out the old year and bring in the new. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much. Albert brought Christmas trees to England, kicking off our annual December traditions. But Victoria found Scottish customs at the… Continue Reading

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