Sarah Albee: Unsuitable

From: Sarah Albee
June 15, 2012 at 05:49AM

The history of the bathing suit is an utterly fascinating one. Here’s just a brief chapter–from the twentieth century.

Both men and women were expected to observe strict rules when it came to swimwear on public beaches in the U.S. Casual male bathers were required to wear skirts from 1910 to 1940. Police trawled the beaches, on the lookout for men who weren’t wearing skirts over their bathing trunks, or for women exposing too much leg. These policemen carried rulers. Seriously.

Women being arrested on a Chicago beach for improper bathing attire, 1922.

An article in the New York Times from August 1st, 1920, reported that police went in search of people in violation of a new ordinance passed in Long Island–this one was a ban on one-piece bathing costumes. (Bathers of both sexes were supposed to wear a long top over their bottom trunks—not the scandalous one-piece, body-revealing fashion). The article breathlessly reported that approximately 25 percent of female bathers appeared “stockingless, and perhaps half of that number were also shoeless.” The police on the lookout for violators found just one person in a one-piece (a four year old child), but “experts in bathing attire pointed out countless one-piece suits to which had been added a frill or tiny drop skirt, which saved their wearers from the police.” The article goes on to report that “The men bathers gave the police far more trouble than the fairer sex. More than fifty men were forced by the police to refrain from tucking the shirts of their suits beneath the trunks.”

June 30, 1922. Washington policeman Bill Norton measuring the distance between knee and suit at the Tidal Basin bathing beach after Col. Sherrell, Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds, issued an order that suits not be over six inches above the knee.” National Photo Co.




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