Thursday, September 17, 2009

OH, THAT ITCHY BATHINGSUIT...and Georgia O' Keeffe

Ah, the end of a rainy summer with barely one or two respectable beach days!

We recently ran a contest on our Facebook page asking readers to try and date bathing suits from our collection, and we were queried " Where did the bikini get its name?" and "What possessed people to wear those weird wool bathing suits?"

You ask, we deliver.

The earliest women’s bathing suits looked almost like street clothes. Your typical lady’s bathing outfit in the early 19th century would have been a heavy wool bathing dress with a corset underneath. If you went into the water, imagine how heavy your suit would become, not to mention that you might have increased the weight even further by sewing weights into the hems of the skirts to prevent them from floating to the surface! What woman could possibly swim in these clothes? They didn’t.

Men, on the other hand, were more able to swim- though the early men’s wool bathing suits designed by Jantzen weighed 9 pounds!

Women began wearing a more daring bathing costume after the mid-1800’s: a 3-piece outfit
made of a shirt, belted dress (though STILL made of heavy wool), knee-length bloomers, dark stockings and bathing slippers.

After 1900, the sleeves shortened progressively to the point that women could soon wear sleeveless bathing dresses, though still demure.

In 1907, an Australian competitive swimmer named Annette Kellerman caused quite a scandal, insisting on appearing in bathing suit of her own design for her competitions. For modesty, she attached black stockings to her bathing suit but nevertheless she was arrested on a Massachusetts beach for indecent exposure for appearing in a knee-length, sleeveless one-piece bathing suit. Her own line of daring swimwear became known as “Annette Kellermans”, the first step towards modern swimwear for women.

Ever a woman ahead of her time, she became an actress and was the first woman, in 1916, to do a nude scene in a film called “A Daughter of the Gods”, the first million-dollar budget film ever made. Alas, no copies now exist.

The Esther Williams of her day, she continued to act in mostly aquatic films (in one, she dove 92 feet into a pool of crocodiles). As a matter of fact, Esther Williams later portrayed her in the film“Million Dollar Mermaid”. Kellerman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Men’s wool bathing suits became more streamlined after 1900 but even they had restrictions.

In 1915 they could be cut no lower on the chest than the armpits and the bathing bottoms had to be no shorter than 4 inches above the knees. It was illegal in most places for men to expose their chest and their bathing suits had to have a “modesty skirt”, a kind of loose skirt effect to cover their genitals.

Though regulations on many public beaches required men and women to wear lightweight un-tucked tops and skirts or skirt-like covers over the fitted shorts, the short apron skirt slowly disappeared in the 1920’s, as did stockings for females. Men's and women's swimsuits actually began resembling each other. Both covered the torso and were sleeveless and formfitting.
It was during that time that Jantzen Knitting Mills patented their rubberized rib-stitched fabric suits for men & women in 1921 with the slogan "The suit that changed bathing into swimming".

It wasn’t until the 1930’s that men’s fashions really began to change. In 1933, a man’s bathing suit called the “topper” was invented with a removable zippered tank top that exposed a man’s chest, even though topless men were banned from most beaches or or arrested for indecency.

A 1936 protest movement called the “No Shirt Movement” demonstrated against the chest-covering requirements and finally, in 1937, it became legal for men to expose their chests in their swimwear.

…And the bikini?

In 1954 The United States dropped an atomic bomb in the Pacific Ocean and the designer of this new abbreviated bathing suit thought to name it after the site of the bomb blast-...Bikini Atoll.

By the way, the handsome actor wearing the early wool bathing suit on the beach is Tom Wisdom, rehearsing for his role in the movie "The Lightkeepers", filmed this past spring in Nantucket. If you are a blog follower, you might remember the "behind the scenes at a movie shoot" segment!
Here he is with Helen in our costume loft, after coming over with the rest of the actors for fittings. He traveled a century in the blink
of an eye!!!

Last but by no means least, we want to give you the heads up on a wonderful television film, "GEORGIA O'KEEFFE" premiering on Lifetime this Saturday, September 19 at 9 PM (and continuing to show other days during the week). It stars Tony Award winners Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons as the famed artist and her husband, photographer Alfred Steiglitz.The film is written by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer and directed by Bob Balaban.

At right, costume designer Michael Dennison, Joan Allen and assistant Franny Vega pose to say good-bye after fittings at our place. Below, Michael and Franny go through the racks of our vintage clothes, organizing what they chose for Joan Allen when she arrives for her fittings.

copyright © 2009 by helen uffner


Cheap Men Suits said...

Love Georgia O' Keeffe, bathing suits, and wool suits as well.

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