Bathing Beauties 1919

My current work in progress Saving Grace takes place in New York City and Santa Barbara, California in 1918-1919.  In the novel, I have a scene where Grace and famous broadway star Kiki Sands drink in the sun and share conversation at the pool. I had to research what they would  wear and and learned a lot about the progression of the woman’s voice in society.

The early 1900’s was a tumultuous time for the world with the Great War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic.  Motion pictures started to take rise, and so did the women’s suffrage movement.  In addition to fighting for their right to vote, women were also making a statement with fahion.

The corset was not completely irradicated, but they were modified to give women more freedom of movement.  This is the Spirella Corset which offered greater flexibility and was to promote better, overall health.  The older corsets were  so tight and rigid, they often compressed a woman’s internal organs, causing a variety of health problems

Women were also becoming more physically active and participated in golf, skiing and swimming.  Once thought to be a therapeutic treatment, “bathing” became recreational and women didn’t want to be left out!

The first swim suits were cumbersome and heavy.  Usually made of wool, they consisted of a tunic or dress, bloomers and black stockings.

By the early 1900’s, bathing suits were becoming a fashion statement and relied on the woman’s “fashionable” figure.  More and more skin was exposed.

   In 1907, Australian “Underwater Ballerina”Annette Kellerman visited the United States.  She caused a fashion commotion when she was arrested for her bathing attire; a loose, one piece suit, showing arms, legs and the neck.  She altered the suit by adding full length arms, legs and a collar, but made the fit tighter, revealing her shape underneath.  Two years later, the tides turned and swimsuits became lighter and offered more freedom.  Bathing costumes became more suited for swimming and less concerned with modesty. Women were allowed to swim competivtively in the Olympics by 1912.

After suffering World War I and the devestation of the Spanish Flu Pandemic, attitudes in the world changed. With the loss of so many lives, people began to live more “in the moment.”  A new appreciation of recreation and leisure time was born.  And, as with most historic social and political events, fashion reflected this attitude. Women had gone to work during the war as nurses, munitions factory workers, seamstresses and spies. They wanted more freedom in their lives, the power of the vote and they wanted their clothing and swimwear to provide more comfort and practicality.

Since then, “bathing attire” has become smaller and smaller!  What do you think that means in relation to women’s empowerment? I’d love to read your comments.

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