Saturday, April 2, 2011

Indecent exposure...vintage bathing suits from the 1920's!

With no willing swimwear models at hand, and a severe lack of warm weather in Jersey City, we decided to take a more creative approach to showcase an amazing collection of 1920's & 30's wool bathing suits we recently purchased! take a look...

Him: 1920's/30's navy & white detachable 2-piece wool bathing suit with belt by 'Gatner', 1930's 'Dobbs' straw boater.

Her: c.1921 2-tone green wool bathing suit with belt loops & faux belt by 'Jantzen', 1920's 'Made in France' red straw cloche hat.

Her: 1920's red wool bathing suit with over-skirt by 'Spalding'.

Him: 1920's green & yellow striped wool bathing suit with button-up strap by 'Rite Style'.

Him: 1920's new old stock navy wool bathing suit.

Her: 1920's/30's red & navy wool swim suit with belt, faux pockets & aplique by 'Catalina'.

Her: 1920's navy blue wool bathing suit by 'Jantzen' with embroidered logo

Him: 1920's green wool bathing suit with over-skirt by 'Ide Knit Co.'

Typical swimwear of the 1920's

Until the mid 1800's, swimming at the beach as a form of relaxation and enjoyment wasn't a popular pastime. Around this time, grand new rail systems had begun to transport holdaying Victorian families to the coast in search of fun and frolicks. Victorian society frowned upon exposing any naked flesh to the sun or prying eyes, and the swimwear of the day was extremely covered up, long sleeved, full length and shapeless from the neck down to the toes! Until then men and women had bathed separately, and as it grew in popularity 'bathing machines' were developed to preserve female modesty. They were basically changing carriages that were pulled by horses to the sea, allowing ladies to discretely take a dip.

A woman exiting a bathing machine

Vintage postcard depicting male bathers ogling ladies as the emerge from a bathing machine
At the turn of the 20th Century the Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman toured the United States, delighting audiences with an underwater act, and a form-fitting swim suit the likes of which had never been seen. She was arrested for indecent exposure because her swim suits showed her bare arms, neck and legs! At the beginning of the 1920's she returned to the States, marketing her own line of swim wear, and once again became the focus of censorship efforts.
The voluptuous Annette Kellerman in one of her tightly fitted swimming stockings...risque!
This was the start of the roaring 20's though, and a fun loving and liberated generation embraced the new changes in swim wear design, much to the disdain of their elders and the authorities. Strict regulations and guidelines were put in place on beaches across the country by local governments, dictating how much flesh could be exposed. As the decade wore on though, the bathing suit started to become less modest and more widely accepted, first uncovering the arms, then the legs up to the mid thigh. Collars receded from high on the neck down to the top of the bosom. The development of new fabrics allowed for more comfortable and practical swimwear than the earlier full wool suits which could weigh up to 9 pounds when wet!
The 1920's 'League Against Indecent Bathing' in full flow, removing offensive scantily clad female bathers with force!
This Washington beach allowed no more than 6 inches of flesh to be exposed above the knee, anything more was deemed obscene!

Showdown on the beach, as the old guard confronts a new breed of exposed bathers
It wasn't until the 1930's that it became widely acceptable for a man to bathe tank-less, and not until the mid 1940's that the bikini appeared - exposing the female midriff for the first time. The navel though remained covered with high-waisted trunks and swim shorts until well into the 1950's...if only they knew what Rudi Gernreich had in store a few years later - but that's a story for another day!

1 comment:

  1. This is ridiculous in a fascinating way. I never knew about "bathing machines" or anything like that. Living in Florida, I think I'd die in "unoffensive" swimwear..