Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Milk Door - The Swim Suit Issue

by Connie Cortright

Top story in New York Times: Twenty-one year old Louise Rosine from Los Angeles was arrested yesterday in Atlantic City, New Jersey when she refused to cooperate with the authorities. For her day at the beach, she wore bathing attire that was not deemed appropriate. She refused to roll up her stockings to cover her knees when ordered to do so by a police officer.

This wasn't the actual quote in the newspaper, but the incident did occur in 1921. Such were the regulations that women faced when they wanted to go swimming at the beach. Prior to the 1900s, men and women were required to swim at separate locations on the beach so that they weren't able to see each other. Even if the men did see the women, the swimming suits covered the women from head to toe. As shown below, women had to wear stockings under their knee length suits for swimming. By 1920 they were allowed to show their arms, at least.

Young women in the early 20s opposed the Victorian-era standards that their parents and city officials placed on them. They pushed back and sometimes got arrested for it. Older folks saw these new bathing suits with knees showing as immoral displays of promiscuity. Annette Kellerman was arrested for indecent exposure in 1908 for wearing a form fitting "body stocking" because it clung to her, displaying her shape.

Although, women's attire was more criticized, men's bathing suits weren't exempt from regulations. Before 1920, men's swimwear consisted of a one piece knee-length suit with short sleeves. The fashion world continued to cut back on the sleeve and leg lengths until finally during the 1930s, men were finally seen at the beach without shirts.

Since there were so many rules that differed from community to community, each city had to make the decisions as to what passed muster and what didn't. Beaches were patrolled by "beach censors" searching for people who weren't wearing proper attire. These "guardians of morality" took their positions seriously, often patrolling the swimming area with tape measures ready to fine or arrest women who weren't measuring up to snuff.

Beach censors were most often hired by municipalities to regulate what was worn in public. They sometimes were specifically hired for the job of censorship of beaches and at other times were merely police officers. When the censors determined that the attire was not appropriate, the swimmers would be escorted off the beach - or worse.

Even though beaches often had lifeguards on duty for the safety of the swimmers, these lifeguards never were given the extra job of being a censor. They were two distinct positions of authority on beaches. With time, the culture around swimwear loosened up. By the late 30s and into the 40s, these strict regulations finally disappeared along with the beach censors.

Maybe we should bring them back again with some of the attire that is worn on the beach today.

Did you notice what they wore on their feet while at the beach in the pictures? They were required to wear stocking and shoes. Fashionable ladies wore beach boots that laced up around the calf, resembling today's wrestling shoes. Maybe they prevented sand from spreading into the house when the swimmers arrived home.

Information taken from Skirting the Skirts at the Bathing Beach.

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