Thursday, February 6, 2014

Scandalous Bathers

Photo by Frank Micklethwaite

When you were required to wear long dresses with a multitude of layers beneath, including breath-snatching corsets, the summer heat must have been almost unbearable. Little wonder that spending time in the water was one of the pleasures of summer life. And it still is!

Photo by Frank Micklethwaite
The ponderous label “bathing costume” was surely apt when you see what that meant in Edwardian times. Made of wool, it was dark so that even when wet (and surely heavy!), not much was revealed beneath. Stockings, slippers, and caps were all part of the outfit for women, and swimming must have been difficult. Little wonder that “skinny dipping” – swimming in the nude, usually under cover of darkness – became popular.

It may surprise many to discover that there was a “clothing optional” beach for naturists on the Toronto Islands from 1894 until 1930 when scandalized citizens managed to get nudism banned.

Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson, 1918
By the end of the Great War, women’s bathing suits were shrinking, more streamlined without cumbersome skirts, and thus geared towards actually swimming. Jantzen’s famous “Diving Girl” logo wore a sassy, red, one-piece suit. Their tagline was "The Suit That Changed Bathing to Swimming".

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