Have you worn your bathing suit this summer?
In the history of bathing suit fashion, achieving the right balance of modesty, material, and motion has been a major challenge. Not to mention sex appeal.
Maybe you’d prefer one of these styles from the past…
Many of us without “perfect bodies” have experienced some degree of anxiety while parading — or should I say skulking — from the relative safety of lying on a beach blanket to the exposure one must endure while entering the water. Some of us might go for this crinoline bathing suit style depicted in a cartoon from 1865.
After the expansion of railroads in the 1800s, it became possible for people to visit sea side beaches in droves. This led to a need for more functional bathing suits.
Men’s bathing suits had also crept up in length, and it was okay to show arms without offending.
In the 1920s, women reached parity on the beach as well as in the voting booth. One-piece, wool jersey, sleeveless tanks suits hit the leg at mid-thigh. Stockings and shoes were no longer required. Women could finally float and vote.
All this flaunting of skin caused a lot of anxiety, so many beaches established laws restricting how much could be shown. If a guy dared to expose his hairy chest, he risked arrest for indecent exposure. And the length of a woman’s bloomers was carefully monitored in case she showed too much leg.
Cotton blends finally replaced scratchy wool in the 1930s. Men exposed their hairy chests without raising anyone’s eyebrows. Women had to begin worrying about flabby thighs. They might even show some midriff skin as two-piece bathing suits began to appear. Belly-buttons still offended any decent person’s sense of morality, however, so bottoms had high waists. Tops still provided a decent amount of coverage and support to lift any breasts in danger of sagging.
- the manufacturing of plastics
- which led to the development of synthetic textiles
- which led to skimpier bathing suits.
Fabrics such as rayon, latex, ruched waffle nylon, and polyesters were lighter weight and more flexible than ever.
These new synthetics inspired fashions that showed off the natural lines of the body. However, women were still reminded that nature could always be improved by features like control top bottoms to flatten the belly, and padded bra cups to augment the chest.
Now that bathing suits could be made using these great new stretchy, lightweight, comfortable fabrics, designers fashioned swimwear that hardly required them to use any of it. The bikini, named after an island where the U.S. tested the atomic bomb, made its first appearance in 1946.
By the 60s, the bikini prevailed. Men could show themselves off in their “Speedos.”
Obsessions with fitness and aerobics in the in the 70s and 80s led to bottoms with high thigh lines, thongs, and bikini-string tops. Or was it the other way around?
By the 1990s, the popularization of stripper fashion and Brazilian waxing inspired G-string bottoms and implant-flaunting tops.
Rudy Gernreich’s topless bathing suit was not originally meant to be worn. He said that he put it out there more as a statement — as a prediction for the future. Moffit’s husband photographed her wearing it, but she didn’t model the suit on a runway. Too much realism and not enough illusion, she explained.
People who saw the photograph found it shocking and fascinating and due to demand, it did end up being manufactured. Evidently some women thought it provided enough illusion.
So why not just wear your bikini bottom and throw out the top? “If a woman wants to appear naked,” Gernreich said, “she wants to appear in something designed for that purpose.”
As for his prediction? Topless bathing suits have not, to date, taken off, so to speak. I can think of different reasons why: women want their suits to be differentiated from men’s; it would be too bouncy to run around like that; no way to disguise or augment bust size, a sunburn on the nipple area would not be pleasant — not to mention skin cancer…
But I suspect women could be convinced by the fashion world to wear — or not wear — anything. The bottom line, so to speak, is that it’s not good business to proclaim that clothing you want to be selling has gone out of style. The next step would be nude bathing, and what money could be made from that? Instead, the industry has gone in the direction of “mix and match,” charging separately for tops and bottoms, and undoubtedly raising profit margins.
You also see some marketing towards different age groups and body sizes. Well, maybe not age so much. Hard to find a middle-aged swimsuit model, much less an elderly one.
On the plus side, so to speak, suits in the 2000s come in every shape, style and modesty level. These offer a full array of options for everyone from young and nubile nymphs to post-menopausal women with stretch marks and saggy boobs.
Now that, I’d have to say, is progress.