Women’s bathing suits and beachwear have always been a hotbed of controversy. Be it the Burkini that swallows one up or the tiny two-piece bikini that glorifies the female form, beachwear has managed to impress and offend people at the same time. From the Victorian swaddling belted dresses to the modern day brief bikini, here’s looking at ten crazy bathing suits in history.
Although bikini-like pieces were used to cover the bodice by women, it was hardly appropriate beachwear in the 1800s. Officially, swimsuits came into existence in mid 1800s, when reforms in railroad systems and other transportation made going to the beach a recreational activity.
According to the diktats of the morality of those times, the swimsuits consisted of a belted dress that was worn with long baggy bloomers. And in case, there was even a slight exposure of skin, extra precautions were taken by adding drawers and stockings. One can only imagine how daunting swimming would have been in such swaddling clothes made of flannel fabric.
At the turn of a new century, when the Victorian era was slowly fading away, the prudishness and stringent moral codes were beginning to get relaxed. The voluminous and heavy layers of the swimsuits were cut down to make them more water-friendly and light. However, heavy flannel and wool fabrics were used to design the dress-like suits so the female form could not be emphasised.
The Suffrage movement was in full force during this time and women were just discovering that there was more to them, besides being locked in kitchens and raising babies. The swimsuits still stubbornly retained their frock-like forms and the emerging women athletes couldn’t swim as well as their male counterparts due to the added weight of the woollen fabrics.
The storm in the teacup came in the form of Annette Kellerman. The first woman to cross the English channel, she was arrested in Boston on grounds of indecency, for wearing a body-hugging, one-piece suit on the beach.
Though her risque swimsuit did raise more than a few brows, the efficient garment allowed Kellerman to cut through water easily without the tangled skirts hampering her progress. Cues were taken right on and subsequent years saw suits exposing more arms, legs and dropped necklines.
These years witnessed women who listened to jazz, wore short skirts and styled their hair into bobs. These ‘modern’ women, called flappers openly thumbed their noses at the Victorian ideals and scoffed at the unrealistic moral codes. A more ‘scandalous’ form of beachwear emerged during this time: one without sleeves, raised hemlines, and tightened busts and midriffs. It was now obvious that there was a female form underneath all the layering of clothing.
Enter the first form-fitting suits. Romper suits (a one-piece combination of shorts and shirt) became the vogue and cotton and rayon replaced the swimsuits of the 20s, making them lighter and easier to dry.
By 1940s, the flash of an arm or a leg was no more an outrageous sight. As the hemlines started inching up, the spaghetti-strap like styles started emerging and women became more comfortable with midriff show–as evident from the two-piece suits that started doing the rounds. This new boldness and independence can also be attributed to the period of the second World War when women were left to be the heads of the house and managers of businesses in many cases. We see the huge leap that women fashion took after the war.
In 1946, the bikini was invented and there was no going back.
Marilyn Monroe was everything in the 50s. What the pop culture icon wore became the ‘rage’ and in light of her daring, other icons like Brigitte Bardot, women became more comfortable with their sexuality. Swimsuits were mostly two-piece attires with a halter-neck bra and a skirt of sorts.
The 60s era was the time of Second Wave Feminism when women openly expressed disdain towards patriarchal norms. Boy shorts and bikini tops became the fashion of the day. In 1964, designer Rudi Gernreich invented the monokini- the first topless swimsuit for women.
Emerging from generations of rules and regulations, this was a liberating time when birth control became an option and the exploration of sexuality easier. A time for embracing one’s body and living by the motto ”the more skin, the better”, the bikini got its iconic style. The teeny bikini with briefs became the fad.
1980s and 90s
These were the times of aggressive sexuality when gymming and body-sculpting were the vogue. The bikinis started having high lines that gave the impression of elongated legs and flashed more cheeks.
What do you think about the evolution of suits? Let us know in the comments’ below.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines