for modesty’s sake… or not…

‘For Sydney-siders, after church on a Sunday morning was Bondi – Australia’s most famous beach and where all were equal. The well dressed promenaded alongside the undressed, together they wallowed in their love affair with the sun, sand and surf.

Voice-over from MOVIETONE MEMORIES (CBS/FOX) [1988]


bathing suits… for modesty’s sake…

Bathing suits of the early 1900s were not designed for rigorous splashing in the surf. The actual act of swimming was almost impossible for women, who were obliged to wear cumbersome outfits for modesty’s sake. The modesty and decency laws of the day cost them dear and women were known to drown in the simple act of trying to take a swim (Kennedy 2007).

While women began to enter the workforce and eventually got the vote, Annette Kellerman pushed for a new perspective on swimsuit designs. ‘Australian Mermaid’ Kellerman was also the first to bring up swimming safety issues for women in public. In 1910, Kellerman confidently showed off her skin-tight boy’s swimming costume alongside young ladies who promenaded in ‘modest’ bathing dresses. She was arrested for indecent exposure at Revere Beach near Boston.

triangles & string…

Women’s liberation and lifestyle changes were – and continue to be – reflected in the evolving swimwear designs. The swimsuit began to shrink since the 1970s. One-piece ‘Kellerman’ suits and sophisticated resort-wear were reduced to pieces of triangle fabrics and strings… 

Over the past 200 years, the swimsuit has undergone transformations in line with our developing obsessions and lifestyle trends. From exhausting Victorian crinolines to barely-there wisps of fabric, the swimsuit has experienced dramatic evolution as a clothing barometer of times.



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