The Ever-Changing Swimsuit: From Bathing Suit Police to Barely-There Bikinis

The Huffington Post recently published a striking image of a woman’s hemline being measured by what could only be a bathing suit policeman. The photograph beautifully captures an important moment in fashion history, and is a nod to the ever-changing style and politics of the swimsuit. Today, modern “fashion police” provide biting social commentary on what celebrities are photographed wearing, but in 1922, there were fashion police who were literally policing the styles of swimwear worn on public beaches.

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The iconic image, which was restored and given color by artist Patty Allison, depicts a scene in the early 20th century that was not at all uncommon. It shows a woman in a swim cap, donning what would today be considered a very modest bathing suit, waiting anxiously as an officer measures the distance between the hem of her suit to her knee. Onlookers stand by nervously awaiting the verdict; will this woman be punished for wearing a swimsuit in public that is too risqué? Of course, young women today would find it humorous that a bathing suit covering so much of the woman’s body would be considered “too revealing,” but social norms have changed immensely since then, and with them changed the bathing suit.

Screen shot 2556-08-13 at 16.19.07Swimwear has experienced a prolific evolution over the last hundred years, and the change from full-coverage bloomers to barely-there bikinis has been incredibly influential within the fashion world, and in popular culture. The image of the swimsuit police measuring a very modest suit in 1922 is a far cry from the itty-bitty bathing suits some women prefer in 2013. Today, swimwear styles are taking cues from retro silhouettes and trends of the past, focusing on bold prints, curve-hugging high waistlines, and pops of color. Others favor pure sex appeal, focusing on skimpy styles, the likes of which have been worn by world-famous models on the covers of both fashion and men’s magazines.

Regardless of your taste in fashion, with swimwear, there are two important things to keep in mind: your bathing suit should always make you feel comfortable as well as stylish. And no matter what, at least your day at the beach will never involve the “bathing suit police” of the early 20th century. Instead, you’ll just have to answer to Joan Rivers.

Featured Image: David Zellaby via Flickr

Image: Restored by Patty Allison via Reddit

Image: rchappo2002/ via Flickr
 

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