Fun Fact Friday: the Evolution of Swimming Suits
- In classical antiquity, swimming and bathing were done the same way: naked.
- There are Roman murals depicting women playing sports and exercising wearing two-piece swim suits, remarkably similar to the present day bikini, despite any evidence that they were used from swimming.
- All classical pictures of swimming show nude swimmers.
- There was no law against nude swimming until the mid-19th century. At this point, individual cities made their own laws regarding nakedness. For example, one from Bath: “It is Ordered Established and Decreed by this Corporation that no Male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a Pair of Drawers and a Waistcoat on their bodies.”
- Men were banned from swimming naked in lakes and rivers in 1860.
- A description of a 1687 swim costume deemed suitable for a lady in public: “The ladies go into the bath with garments made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen.” And men’s: “The Gentlemen have drawers and waistcoats of the same sort of canvas.”
- A description of a 1771 bathing costume for women: “The ladies wear petticoats of brown linen, with chip hats, in which they fix their handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their faces; but, truly, whether it is owing to the steam that surrounds them, or the heat of the water, or the nature of the dress, or to all these causes together, they look so flushed, and so frightful, that I always turn my eyes another way.
- In the 18th century, some women wore bathing gowns that were long dresses of fabric that would not become transparent when wet and that had weights sown into the hem so that it wouldn’t rise up in the water.
- In the 18th century, men’s swimming suits had long sleeves and pant legs and were made of wool. Doesn’t that sound nice and comfortable?!
- Women would get two pieces in the 19th century, but the two pieces in question would be a full length gown and long trousers to go underneath.
- In the Victorian era, many beaches had bathing machines that were designed to avoid exposure of people in swimsuits, particularly those of the opposite sex. They were carts that had roofs and walls that would be wheeled out into the water where people could bathe and wade in the water.
- The arrival of beauty contests in the late 19th century made seeing women in swimming suits more acceptable, although it wasn’t appropriate for “respectable ladies.” It wasn’t deemed fitting until the 1922 “Miss America” contest which had Norman Rockwell as a judge.
- In 1907, the swimmer Annette Kellerman from Australia visited the US as an “underwater ballerina,” an early version of synchronized swimming. She was promptly arrested for indecent exposure because her one piece swim suit showed her arms, legs, and neck. It was also quite tight fitting. She would market a similar design of swimsuit that became very popular in the ‘20s.
- Despite much protestation from the Victorian-minded, the tight fitting swimming garment was here to stay. Women were often photographed for glamor magazines in swimming suits which later evolved into publications like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
- The first bikinis arrived after WWII. They were similar to other two pieces that arrived in the ‘20s but they allowed for a section of bare midriff.
- Most bikinis did not show the belly button until the 1960s.
- Men’s swimsuits progressed along with women’s and got smaller and smaller until they were just speedo style briefs.
- In the 1990s, longer and baggier swimming trunks were popular. They sit lower on the hips than most shorts and hit men at the knee.
I hope when you don your swimming suit and head to a pool party this weekend, you go equipped with a few fun facts about swimming suits to share with your friends. Happy weekend, everyone!