Swim Suit History

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  • Of course, the original swimsuit was the body itself. However, bathing apparel, in one shape or another, has been around for over 2000 years. As we proceed into the new Millennium, the bathing suit as we know it, has changed dramatically. Women's swimwear has come quite a way since the first recorded use of bathing apparel in Greece around 300 B.C. Later, togas were worn when swimming and bathing reached the height of its popularity in the ancient world. In fact, mosaics were found in the villa at Piazza Armernia in Sicily decorated with women dressed in what clearly looks like the modern-day bikini.

    But swimwear fashion was to experience a dry spell following the fall of the Roman Empire when water sports went out of style and Europeans regarded the sea only as a source of physical therapy instead of recreation. However, the arrest of Annette Kellerman for appearing publicly in a one piece bathing suit in 1907 began to point to the role the swimsuit would play in challenging society's notions of morality and helped to determine the ideal body shape for women. Here now is a brief History of Swimwear - The past to the present.

    During the 18th century, spas where men and women engaged in public bathing began appearing in France and England. Men and women still bathed infrequently however and your typical swim was a brief dip in the water with ladies on one side of the beach and men on the other. The earliest bathing suit may have possibly been an old smock resembling a kind of "bathing gown." Modesty was the dictum with style not much of a consideration in those days. The first suits were far from practical or comfortable; ladies went as far as to sewing lead weights into the hem of the "bathing gown" to prevent the dress from floating up and exposing her legs.

    By the mid 1800's bathing became considered a recreation whereas previously it had been merely a therapeutic device. The early 1800's marked the beginning of a revolution in swimwear when Americans flocked to the beaches for seaside recreation. Technological innovations such as railroads made public beaches more accessible for vacations. With increased recreation time and improved economic conditions, the time was ripe for change in women's swimwear. People flocked to the seaside for popular seaside activities such as swimming, surf bathing, and diving. The need for a special garment that retained modesty, but was free enough to enable the wearer to engage in sports was now at hand.

    The first swimsuits consisted of bloomers and black stockings. Around 1855, drawers were added to prevent the problem of exposure. Women still refrained from swimming too much; the prevailing attitude of the day was that only men should swim. Gradual improvements were being made in the cut of the suit itself. By the end of the 19th century, swimming had become an intercollegiate and Olympic sport. In this environment, it finally became acceptable for women to swim. Now women's bathing suits really had an opportunity to take off. By the 1880's the "Princess" cut was introduced, consisting of a blouse and trousers in one piece. The skirts were traded in for cotton-like pants. There was also a separate skirt that fell below the knee and button at the waist to conceal the figure. A ruffled cap or a straw hat generally completed the ensemble.

    The new swimsuits relied heavily on the form of the "fashionable" body, gradually exposing more and more skin. The beginning of the twentieth century marked a new daring era in swim wear for women. In 1907, Australian Annette Kellerman caused quite a stir, when she was arrested in the United States for wearing a loose, one piece suit that became the generally accepted swimsuit for women by 1910. After that swimsuits began the trend of becoming lighter, briefer and more stylish. The apron disappeared by 1918, leaving a tunic covering the shorts. Even though matching stockings were still worn, bare legs were exposed from the bottom of the trunks to the top of the shorts. During the "Roaring 20's" an appreciation for recreation and leisure time was increasing dramatically. This manifested itself during the first annual "Bathing Suit Day" held in May of 1916 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Swimwear was now becoming skimpier, slimmer - and would you believe - sexier, and then very athletic.

    The 20th Century began the swimwear revolution, brought about by: the major increase in recreational sports oriented activities and the influence of the exotic cuts of French swimwear. The clumsy and uncomfortable corset was being discarded and the work of eroticizing the body was replaced by exposing more and more of the skin. This particularly interesting, in that there really was nothing available to equalize or camouflage the shape of the female form. So swimwear began to shrink and more and more flesh was exposed.

    The 1930's had a new generation of designers turning out swimwear garments that were functional, sleek, and streamlined. The famous Bauhaus style was void of all decoration and left beauty up to form and function itself. The 1934 swimsuit hugged the body and was constructed to allow shoulder straps to be lowered for tanning. By the end of the decade, molded-fit suits were introduced, featuring the "nude look." The "panel suit" was also popular, retaining a a small skirt

    The 1940's had bathing beauties, pin-up girls, glamour girls wearing high heels, and jewelry to accessorize their bathing attire. The most exciting was a 2-piece creation call the "bikini." On July 5, 1946, designer Louis Reard introduced his creation at a fashion show in Paris. The suit was named after a few small South Pacific islands called Bikini Atoll - where the United States had established a nuclear test site. Talk about explosions - the "bikini" took the world by storm, and the swimwear world has never been the same. Reard said the suit was smaller than the world's smallest bathing suit. How small was it? Well...Reard was quoted as saying..."It was so small that it revealed everything about the girl except her mother's maiden name!" Also, wartime rationing had ordered a reduction of fabric in the manufacturing of garments. It appears the skimpy garment's timing was perfect!

    As long as a woman had a bosom, a woman was desirable in the 1950's. Because all fashion ends in excess, the more she had the better. Early in this century, some women resorted to removing their lower rib cage to create an hour-glass figure. They padded their bosoms with cotton. Cotton was the early Wonderbra. When it looked like everyone was about to burst at the beach, Christian Dior introduced a relaxed silhouette - sacks, trapeze, a-lines, y-lines. And sighs of relief could be heard everywhere.

    The 1960's were a time of daring. Rudi Gernrich came out with his monokini (the topless swimsuit). Thin was hip and really in, and a leggy look was so great to have at one's favorite place to swim.

    Burning bras in the 1970's was to protest against admiring women for their bosom. The no bra look came in. They did away with the stuffing and the construction. What you see is what you get was the message. There were no surprises. The soft, gentle contour of the bosom was no longer hidden under padding.

    This created a problem for women. Women didn't want to be admired for their bosom, but they weren't happy if their bosom was small. What followed in the 1980's was "plastic surgery." Now, women began padding their bodies with implants. Plastic surgery also lifted the bosom to create a younger look and, in some cases, even offered breast reduction. Feeling more confident about their looks, women started wearing more and more revealing suits. By the time Reard, the bikinis creator, died in 1984 at the age of 87, the bikini made up almost 20% of all swimwear sales in the United States and Canada. That's far more than any other swimwear fashion. >BR>
    Because of problems resulting from the surgery and implants that leaked, the women of the 1990's have returned to suits with intricately engineered wires, silicone inserts and other fiber-fill push up devices. Creating an appealing cleavage is a very important look. The bottom of the suit is very important, and there are a range of looks available in Rio cuts, Tongo bottoms, thongs, hot pants, and V-front bottoms, etc.

    A bathing suit must look good dry or wet. It must be attractive day or night and needs to look good at the pool, jacuzzi, lake, river, ocean, spa, and on a cruise.

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