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A Brief History of the Bathing Suit
Published June 6, 2015 by Florida Memory
On July 5th, 1946 the bikini hit shelves and changed Florida’s beaches forever. In honor of this momentous event, we’re taking a look at the history of the bathing suit!
The first stop on our timeline is in the 18th century (though there’s proof people were using bathing suits as far back as Ancient Rome). According to Smithsonian, ladies often wore “bathing gowns” in the water, which was just what it sounds like, a long dress meant to modestly cover women, even when wet. It is thought that women even put weights in the dress so it wouldn’t float up!
This modest bathing fashion continued well on into the early 20th century, as these Florida photos demonstrate:
Bloomers, adapted for water, worn with tunics and black stockings became popular around the turn of the 20th century. However they were made of heavy material such as wool or flannel, that made it difficult for women to comfortably navigate the water.
SCANDAL! In 1907, Annette Kellerman, famed for becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel, was arrested in Boston for wearing a one-piece, form-fitting suit. The arrest was not an isolated incident and what followed was women’s bathing suits showing more and more skin on beaches across the world.
In 1938, the strapless bathing suit made its first debut in Miami Beach.
And then came the “bomb” that would change swimming fashion forever. On July 5th, 1946 the bikini made its explosive debut at a Paris fashion show. French engineer Louis Réard invented the scandalous two-piece, midriff-bearing bathing suit, rumored to be named after the recent atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, because it too would explode.
Today, bathing suits come in all shapes, patterns and sizes. Whatever suit you like best, summer is a great time to put it on and enjoy one of Florida’s many beaches, rivers, springs, and lakes!
Cite This Article
Chicago Manual of Style(17th Edition)
Florida Memory. "A Brief History of the Bathing Suit." Floridiana, 2015. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/327105.
Florida Memory. "A Brief History of the Bathing Suit." Floridiana, 2015, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/327105. Accessed November 29, 2023.
Florida Memory. (2015, June 6). A Brief History of the Bathing Suit. Floridiana. Retrieved from https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/327105