Recreational swimming gained popularity when the railroads started transporting families to the coast. “Bathing machines” meant women and women might change and submerge in the sea while not the titillating exposure of nude skin. The dress evolved into a two piece suit; an extended sleeved gown to the knees, plus long pantaloons.
The wonderful Annette Kellerman shocked the globe in Boston in 1907 by swimming during a revolutionary jersey sleeveless tank-suit, revealing her legs and arms. She was arrested for indecency.
However, she promoted the new style of swimwear for girls and “Annette Kellermans” were the first fashionable girls’ swimsuits. In 1926 Gerturde Ederle swum the English Chanel and ladies now “swam” instead of “bathed”.
These early women’s costumes were fairly androgynous, albeit sensible. In the 1930s came the feminisation of the swimsuit. Costumes got impractical once more when Hollywood introduced bathing beauties into films; Esther Williams wore figure hugging costumes, the new stretch fabrics could have helped movement but the sequins and mermaid tail should have been difficult.
In the 1940s corsets created a comeback and ladies were strapped, boned and cupped into desirable shapes. New materials such as stretch Lastex and elastic nylon combined with cotton to boost curves. Zips pulled it all together.
Revolution came once more in 1946 with Heim and Reard’s bikinis: “smaller than the littlest bathing suit in the world,” though these guys would be shocked at just how abundant smaller the bikini could get.
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Gallery of Girls Swimming Costumes
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