Sign me up for all the latest razzmatazz about the Chronicles books and the 1920s and get the novella DESTINATIONS for FREE!!Don't miss out!


Fun in the sun!

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s. You know…Sherilyn’s Gal Friday

Well, the weather is finally (!) turning warm and I’m going to head off to the beach for some well-deserved fun in the sun. (Guess which one I am?)

Before I do, I thought I’d share a few notes I made for an upcoming spread I’m running in the Inquirer about bathing suits.

What the gals are wearing…

The bathing suit I’m packing for the beach is made of wool. I don’t actually go swimming, so the wool keeps me warm. My mother, when she went to the beach, wore full length bloomers, so we’re making great strides.

There are new suits made out of a stretchy ribbed jersey that fit more snugly than regular jersey and are certainly more comfortable than thick wool. It makes it easier to swim, but it also shows off more curves.

Modest women can still wear the swim dress –– a longer skirt over attached shorts.  And Jantzen has created a very popular suit looks like it is in two pieces. Imagine a tank top sewn onto a pair of swim trunks.

Up until a few years ago, swim trunks or skirts typically could not be higher than a few inches above the knee and women were often required to wear black stockings and shoes. At first stockings were rolled down to above the knee but kept on rolling down to ankle level.

Speaking of shoes, I mustn’t forget to pack my beach shoes. While some women simply wear flat street shoes over their stockings, I have a pair of beach boots. They’re lace-up boots that go up mid-calf and look like wrestlers footwear. I’ve also got my eye on a pair beach slippers made of Duck canvas that resemble flat Mary Jane’s or Oxfords. They’re made of rubber and are peachy for rocky beaches, rivers and lakes.

Necklines are dropping to deep boat necks or V-necks. Arm holes are growing bigger to make real swimming easier. Colours are as vibrant as other ’20s sportswear- red, blue, black, gray and kelly green with contrasting stripes. An optional white rubber belt is common and helps keep the two piece suit from floating up in the water.

Gal’s with bobbed hair who are swimming vs sun bathing often wear an “aviator” style rubber swim cap which fits as tight as a cloche hat. There’s an optional strap under the chin. A swim cap helps keep their bobbed hair from losing its shape.

While the idea of swimming is very popular — the actual sport is limited to serious athletes. Most beach goers merely play by the water, wading and maybe a bit of doggy paddle in shallow waters.

Beach Police

As the swim suits get shorter, women have to be on the lookout for the beach police who patrol the area with measuring tape in hand.

These skin censors measure the distance between the bottom of a woman’s bathing suit and her knee. Too much bare skin can result in a hefty $10 fine or even being hauled off to jail! Most of these modesty rules have been lifted by the mid-twenties — too many women simply didn’t care to follow them and far too many men enjoyed the new view.

Men’s Suits

Women aren’t the only ones to get tighter swimsuits. Men’s swimwear has also slimmed down to show off his new athletic body.

In many ways, men’s and women’s suits are nearly identical.

A deep cut ribbed wool tank top over a snug fitting pair of shorts. It was “too much” to raise the top of the shorts any further (revealing men’s personal parts). Instead, more suit material has been removed from under the arms and around the back- supposedly making it easier to swim but mostly to reveal more muscles. Huba-huba!

Bathing Beauty Pageants

Of course, I can’t mention the beach without talking about beauty pageants. My brother is ga-ga over them but my mother really doesn’t approve.

In 1921, the Atlantic City Business Men’s League took the advice of a local newspaper columnist and added a bathing beauty completion to its post-Labor Day Atlantic City Fall Frolic. Women in bathing suits competed against other women from other cities who earned the trip to Atlantic City by winning local competitions.

Of course, bathing beauty pageants aren’t just an east coast thing. In California, in towns like Newport Beach, women in one-piece tank suits and beach boots literally parade up and down the boardwalks.

Not all of the California bathing beauties are there just to get a tan or win a beauty contest though. For some, it is the road to stardom.

It worked for Carole Lombard. Before she became an acting legend and wife to Clark Gable, Lombard appeared on film as one of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties.

1 Comment

  1. JazzFeathers says:

    Oh, I loved this! Articles about everyday life are alwasy my favourite. I think bathing suits are among the more misterious ‘everyday life’ garbs out there. It’s changed enournously over the last century and older ones are so different from the ones we are accustomed to today that it nearly seems it’s not the same thing.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *