1920s swimsuits color

1928 Swimmers on the dock in Germany

A bathing suit made of…wool? That’s right. In the 1920s, the idea of going to the beach and actually getting into the water to swim was still relatively new. Functionality in swimwear was not as important as fashion, so the prevailing theory was that wool would help keep you warm. As swimming for recreation came into vogue in the 1920s, makers of swimwear had to adapt and make swimwear, well, for swimming. Jantzen revolutionized swimwear material with a stretchy ribbed jersey that fit more snug than regular jersey and certainly more comfortable than thick wool.

1920s swimsuits bathing suits

1923- Ready for the Beach

This made it easier to swim, but it also showed off more of a woman’s curves. Necklines dropped to deep boat necks or V-necks. Arm holes grew bigger to to making real swimming easier. Colors were as vibrant as other ’20s sportswear- red, blue, black, gray and kelly green with contrasting stripes. An optional white rubber belt helped keep the two piece suit from floating up in the water. An “aviator” style rubber swim cap fit as tight as a cloche hat with an optional strap under the chin. A swim cap helped keep a gal’s bobbed hair from losing its shape. The idea of swimming was very popular — the actual sport was limited to serious athletes. Most beach goers merely played by the water, waded and maybe doggy paddled around in shallow waters.

Mid 1920s wool swimsuit
Mid 1920s wool swimsuit

As swimwear also became shorter, women had to be on the lookout for the beach police who patrolled the area with measuring tape in hand. These skin censors would measure the distance between the bottom of a woman’s bathing suit and her knee. Too much bare skin and that could result in a hefty $10 fine or even being hauled off to jail! Most of these modesty rules were lifted by the mid twenties — too many women simply didn’t care to follow them and far too many men enjoyed the new view.

1920s bathing suits

1922 Beach Police Modesty Check

1926 pattern swimsuit

1920s swimsuit bathingsuit

Modest women still could wear the swim dress –– a longer skirt over attached shorts.  However, Jantzen created a very popular suit in 1921 that looked like it was two pieces. If you were to sew a tank top onto a pair of swim trunks today, you would have something similar to the Jantzen suit. Still, swim trunks or skirts typically could not be higher than a few inches above the knee and women were often required to wear black stockings and shoes. At first, stockings were rolled down to above the knee but kept on rolling down to ankle level. Why wear them at all was the attitude by the early ’30s.

1922 swimsuits and bathing caps at the public pool

1922 swimsuits and bathing caps at the public pool

1922 modest swim dresses

1922 modest swim dresses

What about footwear? Some women simply wore flat street shoes over their stockings but the truly fashionable wore their beach boots. Lace up boots rising above the calf were the most common in the early twenties. They look like men’s wrestling shoes today. By the mid twenties lower beach slippers made of Duck canvas resembled flat Mary Jane’s or Oxfords. All rubber, slip on shoes were another new item and were best suited for rocky beaches, rivers and lakes. People of the twenties used natural waters more than pools — they were after all less polluted back then.

Swim Shoes

1920s swim shoes bathing shoes boots

1924 Swimming Beach Shoes- Duck canvas and rubber slippers

1920s laced beach shoes

1920s laced beach shoes

1922 swim shoes

1922 swim shoes, boots and oxfords

1920s swimsuit and parasol

Colorized Swim Postcard

Beauty Contests

1920s swimsuit and parasol

Colorized Swim Postcard

Sexiness in swimwear evolved slowly. Catalina Swimwear pushed a few boundaries with its backless Rib Stitch 5 bathing suit, but what really seemed to join the idea of sexy and swimwear was the growth of bathing beauty pageants. In 1921, the Atlantic City Business Men’s League took the advice of a local newspaper columnist and added a bathing beauty completion to its post-Labor Day Atlantic City Fall Frolic. Women in bathing suits competed against other women from other cities who earned the trip to Atlantic City by winning local competitions. Catalina was one of the earliest sponsors of this contest, which morphed into the Miss American pageant in 1940.

 

1920s bathing suits

Swimsuit Competitions Involved showing off dancing talents too.

Bathing beauty contests were not only found on the East Coast. In California, in towns like Newport Beach, women in one-piece tank suits and beach boots literally paraded up and down the boardwalks. Not all of the California bathing beauties were there just to get a tan or win a beauty contest though. For some, it was the road to stardom. It worked for Carole Lombard. Before she became an acting legend and wife to Clark Gable, Lombard appeared on film as one of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties in 1928.(Swimsuit Competitions Involved showing off dancing talents too.)

Bathing beauty contests were not only found on the East Coast. In California, in towns like Newport Beach, women in one-piece tank suits and beach boots literally paraded up and down the boardwalks. Not all of the California bathing beauties were there just to get a tan or win a beauty contest though. For some, it was the road to stardom. It worked for Carole Lombard. Before she became an acting legend and wife to Clark Gable, Lombard appeared on film as one of M1920s swimsuits beauty contest

Jack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties in 1928.

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