Swimwear has a history fraught with hang-ups about the body. Initially, bearing the body was considered unacceptable. Later, fitness promoters encouraged people to select leisure wear that was easy to move in and allowed for a wide range of physical movement. Then, suddenly, it was all about sexiness and having the perfect body. Today, the focus is on being confident in the body you have and choosing outfits that complement the natural you.
The Impact of Holidays
There was a time when holidays from work were unheard of. But once the summer holiday became the norm, people flocked to beaches and found that their attire was wholly inappropriate to the scene. People started to loosen up, become more daring, and gradually things changed.
Upgrading from the days of Edwardian bathing dresses to bikinis took decades. Some outdated morals were slow to change. For example, men could only show their chests after the mid-1930s. Both men and women were banned from showing their belly buttons until the end of the 1950s.
The Impact of the Need to Exercise
In 1900, a woman’s swimsuit was paired with black stockings and full-length skirts, a cap, and boots that laced up. The swimming suit was made of wool. Can you imagine trying to exercise in that outfit, much less swim in the sea? It took half a decade from this point before bikinis that looked like lingerie were all the rage. But you still could not laze around on the beach dressed like this; it was only permitted in the water.
Annette Kellerman, a swimmer from Australia, was the champion for women’s rights to exercise. This got herself arrested for indecent exposure when she entered a beach in Massachusetts. She was wearing a single-piece bathing suit that followed her form but came with a high neck, accompanied by shorts to her knees. This was worn with tights covering the legs.
Coco Chanel started a trend of women wearing trousers at the beach. This fitted in with the developing Riviera beach culture, which encouraged people to spend time simply relaxing at the beach with no other agenda. These two influences released women to wear beach pyjamas from the 1920s. Coco Chanel took this from the beach to anywhere in public. This new attire made it possible for women to run and get some exercise outdoors. She promoted sports activities, sun tanning, short length hairstyles, and clothing that blurred the lines between women and men. The opportunities to enjoy the beach was the great enticer that supported her efforts.
We should remember that it was not only women who were affected by the morals around beachwear. The first swimwear for men was like a full-length woman’s costume. Men’s swimwear has come a long way from then to the designer swim trunks for men that dictate men’s fashions at the beach today.
The Impact of Body Image
Enter Brigitte Bardot in the mid-1950s and sex appeal and the bikini are the fashion statement of that time. Bodies were barely covered, and with so much flesh exposed, culture focused on having the best possible form to display. However, this did not sit well with many people who considered their bodies far from perfect and were shy about showing so much of themselves.
Today, the focus is on dressing for individuality and confidence and having a healthy body image.