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Women’s Swimwear

1920’s Women’s Beach & Swimwear – Photographs

Here’s some beautiful swimwear fashions to inspire you! Please, click on the pictures to get original sources. Have a nice evening!

June 25, 1921. Washington, D.C.
June 25, 1921. Washington, D.C. “Bathing Costume Contest.”
1920's beach ball babe.
1920’s beach ball babe.
Sonia Delaunay Beachwear, 1927
Sonia Delaunay Beachwear, 1927
Washington, D.C., 1920. "Mary Claphet, Irene & Ella Sherer, Mary Facenire." junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery
Washington, D.C., 1920. “Mary Claphet, Irene & Ella Sherer, Mary Facenire.” junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery
Gladys Wagner posing at the beach in San Francisco during the 1920s when she was modeling and dancing on the stage.
Gladys Wagner posing at the beach in San Francisco during the 1920s when she was modeling and dancing on the stage.

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1923. Swimmers at the Wardman Park Hotel pool in Washington.
1923. Swimmers at the Wardman Park Hotel pool in Washington.
June 17, 1922. "Washington Advertising Club bathing costume contest at Tidal Basin." The the winning entry of Miss Anna Niebel, "former Follies girl." junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery
June 17, 1922. “Washington Advertising Club bathing costume contest at Tidal Basin.” The the winning entry of Miss Anna Niebel, “former Follies girl.” junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery
Atlantic City circa 1922. "Four young ladies on a roof." junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery
Atlantic City circa 1922. “Four young ladies on a roof.” junipergallery Fine-Art Prints by Juniper Gallery

1920’s Women’s Beach & Swimwear Pt. 2

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.

1920’s Women’s Beach & Swimwear Pt. 1

Prior to world War l, “bathing costumes”, as they were known, were modest garments made of itchy woollen fabric. Women’s costumes usually consisted of a loose overblouse, a knee-length skirt, and stockings – an outfit barely less voluminous than street wear. Although women’s bathing costumes were certainly not conducive to actual swimming, this actually caused few problems, since recreational swimming was not a tremendously popular activity during the early years of the twentieth century. Still, trying to swim in these bathing costumes proved inordinately difficult. (1)

In 1908, Annette Kellerman, a champion swimmer and later vaudeville and movie star, wore a sleek one piece- piece body stocking into the surf at Revere Beach near Boston and was promptly arrested for indecent exposure. Nevertheless, this risqué one-piece bathing suit, which came to be known as the controversial “Kellerman Suit”, marked the beginning of a dramatic change in women’s swimwear from bulky, unathletic swimming dresses to form-fitting modern bathing suits. (1)

Anna Kellerman wearing what later became known as the
Anna Kellerman wearing what later became known as the “Kellerman Suit”, 1907.

The 1920’s marked the founding of three major bathing suit manufacturers, eventually known as Jantzen, Cole an Catalina, that succeeded in popularizing beach fashion and breaking down older prohibitions on suitable bathing garments. (1) 

Danish immigrant Carl Jantzen, along with his partners John and Roy Zehntbauer, invented a machine that could knit stretchy fabric that was ribbed on both sides. This fabric was much more elastic than ordinary jersey, the fabric most commonly used to make swimwear, and it clung on every curve of the body. In 1921, Jantzen began developing one-piece bathing suits that looked as if they were actually two pieces. (1) 

A beautifully illustrated Jantzen ad from 1921. #vintage #1920s #summer #beach #swimsuit #ad
A beautifully illustrated Jantzen ad from 1921.

These tubular maillot suits, sometimes called “California-style” suits, consisted of a scoop-necked, sleeveless top that was sewn at the waist to a pair of trunks. Often these unisex suits were embellished with bold, colourful stripes across the chest, hip and thigh. Jantzen marketed these suits with matching swimming sock and caps topped with a pompon. But because swimming was still not a particularly popular recreational activity, Jantzen realizes that the market for swimwear was relatively limited. To encourage Americans to swim and therefore, to buy more swimsuits, Jantzen founded the Jantzen Swimming Association in 1926 and immediately launched a national campaign called “Learn to Swim”, which offered free swimming lessons across the country, certificates of completion, local competitions, and endorsements from champion swimmers. By 1930, Jantzen was the world’s largest producer of bathing suits, selling more than 1.5 million suits a year. (1)

Loretta Young in a bathing suit ad for Jantzen swimwear 1920s.
Loretta Young in a bathing suit ad for Jantzen swimwear 1920s.

While Jantzen’s Oregon-based company specialized in athletic-looking suits that were actually suitable for swimming, Fred Cole’s rival company in Los Angeles focused on creating dramatic fashion suits that were designed primarily for glamorous sunbathing. In 1925, Cole began marketing the “Prohibition Suit”, which had a low-cut neckline and tiny skirt that was shockingly revealing for the time. (1)

Catalina swimwear, also based in California, offered America’s bathing beauties a range of swimsuits that were sexier than Jantzen’s but not nearly as daring as Cole’s. Catalina’s “Rib Stitch 5” suit, for example, introduced the nearly backless bathing suits that became immensely popular among women in the late 1920’s. Catalina also served as the official swimsuit provider for the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. (1)

Atlantic City's bathing beauties - 1922
Atlantic City’s bathing beauties – 1922

Source:

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

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