humorpop culture
The Bathing Suit: From Wherever Did It Come?
by Marjorie Dorfman

page 2

bathing suit modelGlamour photography, exemplified by the sensual, figure-hugging nature of these garments, often featured stars wearing bathing suits. (Remember Lana Turner in that white number in The Postman Rings Twice? Ooh-la-la!) Eventually, this art evolved into swimsuit photography. During the 1950s, women still continued to wear all-in-one swimsuits and they took great care to cover up their hairstyles with a swimming cap or bathing cap. Often too, the head was fashionably kept well out of the water while swimming (no easy feat).

The first bikinis were introduced shortly after World War II and were named after Bikini Atoll, the site of several nuclear weapons tests. The moniker signifies the supposed explosive effect on the viewer. Early examples of them, however, were not explosive at all; in fact, they were not very different from the two-piece women’s suits prevalent since the 1920s, except for the fact that they had a gap below the breast line allowing for a bare midriff section.

watching the seaThroughout the 1950s, the bikini had to come up high enough to cover the navel. Even those innocuous beach movies of the day had all navels covered and accounted for. But something happened in the 1960s that shrank the bikini in all directions until all that was not exposed were nipples and genitalia. Some less revealing models did remain in vogue and these gave more support to the breasts. The bikini was considered risqué and best suited to the bodies of film stars and exotic dancers. During this time period, fashion designer, Rudy Gernreich, introduced the monokini to an ever-growing naked world. This topless suit for women consisted of a modest bottom supported by two thin straps and although it was not a commercial success, it transformed design possibilities.

Until the early 1960s, zips were used in the centre back of swimsuits, which retained a corset-like appearance. The suits of the 1950s and 1960s were cut straight across the top of the leg creating a modesty apron that hid the separate matching fabric crotch. Soon, this became old hat and was replaced with the advent of new fabrics, namely nylon and Lycra. These new synthetics allowed for stretch and pull, and now the front panel of the garment and the crotch were cut as one. Other variations included pleated or flared skirts cosmetically targeted to cover bad looking thighs. By the late 1960s, swimsuits had revealing side mesh net panels or cut out midriffs filled in with see-through plastic rings.

in the surfThe thong or "tanga" came out of Brazil in the 1980s, supposedly inspired by the traditional garments of native tribes in the Amazon (not the web site; the river). The one piece still held its modest ground and continued to be popular. During the 1980s, men’s swimwear developed roughly in parallel to women, with shorts becoming as sparse as the world would allow, assigned to the only area worthy of covering, namely the family jewels. Racing-style "speedo" suits, thongs and G-strings were worn, but mostly in tropical regions along the coastline of the West, South, Southeast United States, Caribbean Islands, Western Europe and the Mediterranean. During the 1990s, however, the longer and baggier shorts became popular, and some of them actually reached to the knees! (Talk about a change in attitude!)

The one piece adjusted to bikini competition by abbreviating it even further by cutting the legs higher as well as straight across. What was considered a high leg in the 1970s is a lot higher now and, in fact couldn’t be much higher if it tried. Many women still prefer the thick-waisted, one-piece look. Even slimmer figures sometimes look better in the one-piece and for many, it is more comfortable. One big change that has made women much more comfortable is the availability of cup sizes. Gottex swimwear is particularly known for this as well as the clever cutting and stretch control tummy panels, which create a good silhouette. These suits run over 80 £ (160 + US dollars).

Today the choices in swimwear are many, although it has taken centuries for comfort to be established as a significant part of the enjoyment the beach has to offer. So whether you need a big shirt or sarong to make your way to that kiosk ten yards away or not even a thong as you pass oglers named Tom and otherwise, remember that the bathing suit you wear (or choose not to wear) has a long and noble history. This is the bare truth, no matter how you may secretly feel about nylon and Lycra.

Happy Beach!have fun

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