Swimwear, like many other aspects of American popular culture during the Jazz Age, was also subject to a number of short-lived, usually ill-conceived fads. Some of the more imaginative novelty bathing suits introduced during the 1920’s were made of badly chosen materials that ranged from rabbit fur to seaweed to wooden barrel staves. While never appropriate for actual swimming, these suits did generate a bit of extra notoriety and attention on America’s beaches. (1)

“Miss Washington in bathing suit.” Evelyn Lewis at the Wardman Park Hotel pool, 1922

Perhaps not surprisingly, the evolution of form-fitting swimwear also caused significant controversy during the 1920’s, as directors of public beaches, resorts, and country clubs implemented strict dress codes for which violations were punishable by fines and, occasionally, even imprisonment. (1)

Chicago, Illinois - Two bathers being escorted off the beach by a police woman - April 1922
Chicago, Illinois – Two bathers being escorted off the beach by a police woman – April 1922
These apologies for skirts endanger the morals of the children. The police must interfere and stop the outrageous proceedings.
THE WASHINGTON POST, 1907
In Chicago, Illinois, a woman is being arrested for defying a Chicago edict banning
In Chicago, Illinois, a woman is being arrested for defying a Chicago edict banning “abbreviated bathing suits” on beaches, July 12, 1922
The city has no right to tell me how I shall wear my clothes. It is none of their darn business. I will go to jail first.
LOUISE ROSINE, 1921
Chicago policewomen checking for violations of the bathing suit-length laws, 1921
Chicago policewomen checking for violations of the bathing suit-length laws, 1921

Regulations, along with the level of enforcement, varied from beach to beach. Typically, dress codes dictated that trunks (or bloomers) and skirts could rise no higher than so many inches above the knee, and sometimes female bathers were required to wear stocking, usually (but not always) rolled above the knee. (1)

“Smokey” Buchanan from the West Palm Beach police force, measuring the bathing suit of Betty Fringle on Palm Beach, to ensure that it conforms with regulations introduced by the beach censors, 1925

Some public beaches and resorts actually hired “beach censors” to patrol the swimming area in order to maintain order among bathers and enforce dress codes. Chicago’s Clarendon Beach even employed a woman as “beach tailor” who enforced women’s dress codes by stitching um loose armholes and sewing longer, more modest skirts onto too-short bathing suits. Men’s swimwear was also regulated, but it seems that dress codes for men were enforced far less stringently than they were for women. (1)

Sources:

http://mashable.com/2015/05/27/swimsuit-police/

(1) The 1920s (American Popular Culture Through History) by Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber, 2004

Read 1920’s Women’s Beach & Swimwear Pt.1.

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