Swimming costume

Swimming costume, 1920-30, knitted wool. The label at the back of the neck reads ‘MERIDIAN INTERLOCK… THE PERFECT FABRIC FOR SENSITIVE SKINS … BRITISH MADE’

Swimming costumes have an interesting history that reflect attitudes to nudity and fitness. In 1860 nude male bathing was made illegal. The Victorians found any kind of body exposure very shocking, and the bathing costumes worn were voluminous cotton garments that completely covered the body and made swimming very difficult.

At the 1912 Summer Olympics female swimming was introduced for the first time. Women from over half of the 17 participating countries wore tight fitting swimming suits that covered most of the body, but were still seen as shockingly revealing by some people, and resulted in the American team withdrawing from the competition.

During the 1920s and 30s swimwear began to become more decorative, and also to cover less of the body.

In the 1940s and 1950s nylon and artificial fabrics revolutionised swim wear – swimming costumes now dried quickly, didn’t sag embarrassingly when wet, or shrink when too hot.