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Swimwear - Then and Now - What has changed?

Has swimwear always been around?

The short answer is NO. How did we go from bathing in the buff to underwear to swimwear...?

Swimming in the nude sounds pretty freeing to me.. Why do people even bother with swimwear? Well, there are actually no rules outlawing skinny dipping here in the UK. However, it is often frowned upon in society. If you choose to let yourself loose you could find yourself flaunting indecency exposure or public decency laws and end up getting arrested. Therefore, if a member of the public asks you to cover up I would have to advise that you do so...

Unless, of course, you find yourself on one of the hundreds of nude beaches around the globe where clothing really is optional. Enjoy your care-free-cation!

So, you may be wondering, when did people start covering up?

In fact, there are Roman Murals showing women playing sports and exercising whilst wearing two-piece suits similar to the modern-day bikini. Unfortunately, there is no solid evidence that these were used for swimming. Also, all pictures found from the classic era show no swimwear worn during any swimming activities. Throughout this time it is believed that all people swam in the nude.

A Roman mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale showing girls in "Bikinis".

After many years in the mid 18th Century the "Bath Corporation" in the UK ordered that "no male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any baths by day or by night without a pair of drawers on their bodies."

Men's swimwear has always differed from female costumes to highlight their masculinity. This took a no-frills approach with a solid square look - similar to the swimwear found today.

What was swimwear made of?

The drawers worn in the late 18th Century were made from wool due to their stretchy properties and the fact that they absorbed less water than cotton. Although, this design made swimming rather difficult and risqué due to the weight of the garments. It has been discovered that early swimwear worn by Jantzen men weighed a whopping 9lbs when wet. Consequently, thanks to the introduction of man-made materials, the weight of swimwear soon improved. First rubber was used and then nylon a few decades later.

20th Century

Next, during the early 1900s most males would wear something called a "tank suit" which is drastically different from the swimwear you know today. As you can see from the picture below, this type of clothing resembles a modern-day jumpsuit or wet suit.

You would never guess that this used to be common swimwear at the time.

This was introduced as the social norms of the time were highly focussed on modesty and covering up. Thankfully, as time went on it became more fashionable for men to suit a suntan and so the designs for men's swimwear shifted with the trends. The long sleeves as seen above had been removed and a one-piece costume called the speed-suit was born. This type of suit was being mass produced and often featured solid colours and large stripes. This is still a common design today as you can see within our swimwear range.

1935 men’s one piece swimsuit and two piece trunks with crab back top

During 1937 it finally became acceptable for men to opt for boxer-style swimming trunks with their chest left bare. This was extremely controversial at the time as many people protested against this change. However, it was eventually accustomed in society as body consciousness and athetic-wear was growing popularity.

After the war years in the 1940s fabrics were at a shortage which meant that swimwear adapted to slightly shorter styles as seen in modern day. Since this time, the style of men's swimwear has pretty much stayed the same. Different versions of the simple long and loose boxers and the short and tight trunks remained in cycle. The only difference now was the rising attention to detail and the huge ever-evolving range of fabrics including loud designs, Hawaiian prints and bright colour. The fabrics used in swimwear is now commonly nylon or polyester to be as quick drying and light weight as possible.

Above you can see modern Swimwear as seen on our site. One of these pairs was actually won by one of our lucky customers in our recent Swimwear competition!

What do you think about the changes in swimwear over the years? What era do you like best? If I was to pick, I would choose the pre-swimwear stage ;)

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