Sunday, June 24, 2012
History of Ladies' Swimwear
During the 18th century, public bathing in England and France became an accepted leisure activity, as beaches gradually were seen as places of recreation and not just therapeutic treatments for the rich who could afford seaside resorts. Thus, the need for women’s swimwear began.
The first ladies swimwear was probably nothing but a smock. Practicality and modesty governed the design, even though women and men bathed in different areas of the beach. Still, so as not to run the risk of exposing a bare leg, women sewed weights in the lower part of their garments to keep the fabric from floating to the surface.
In the 19th century, even in the U.S., swimming became a popular recreational pastime. When those two railroad tycoons, Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, built railroads in Florida, the beaches became more accessible to the general public, and swimwear became an item in every woman’s wardrobe.
A blouse, bloomers, and black stockings were acceptable beach wear. By the turn of the century, loose, one-piece suits became fashionable, following the lead of the Austrian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, who was arrested in the U.S. for wearing one, deemed immodest and daring. A few years later, though, these same suits came to be accepted.
In the 1950s, the one-piece, snugly fitted “glamour-girl” suits could be seen on beaches throughout the U.S., followed shortly by two-piece suits, which eventually evolved into bikinis, and later, thongs.
The evolution in women’s swimwear was slow in coming, mainly due to our Puritan roots, but there’s precious little we can remove from here on without wearing our birthday suits. Since that was the “earliest” suit, we have almost come full circle.