100 Years of Swimwear: 1920 – 1940

100 Years of Swimwear: 1920 – 1940

100 years of swimwear and swimwear design is being celebrated this summer with a fascinating new London exhibition in honour of the history of the fabulous fashion style. Planetfem takes a closer look at the section of the exhibition entitled; 1920-1940, Cling, Bag, Stretch.

This  particular section of the exhibition looks at the various fabrics developed to allow swimwear and beachwear garments to fit its wearer better.

The Portland Knitting Company invented a tight rib stitch knitting in the 1920s which later became known as Jantzen with the tagline, “fitted as though painted on you.”

Dr Christine Boydell is the curator of the Riviera Style, taking place at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. She told Lingerie Insights, “Swimsuits fitted much better because of this fabric – it was able to stretch – but it still had all the problems of absorbing water and going baggy and saggy as a result.”


Then came a revolutionary technique in the 1930s. A manufacturer named Martin White developed “telescopic” technology. Covered elastic was sewn horizontally and vertically inside the swimsuit creating a ruching effect. This technique led to the creation of a one-size-fits-all swimsuit by R & WH Symington, based in Market Harborough.

Christine explains,“Symington is really important in the swimwear story and in this exhibition because Leicester Museum, which provided a lot of the objects, has a fantastic collection of Symington swimwear, and none of it has been worn. So, most of the garments in the exhibition are in perfect condition.”

Modesty slowly swam out to sea as swimsuits got smaller and tighter and apparently the suntan became popular with white-skinned beach-goers thanks to that fashion icon, Coco Chanel. According to Christine, the story goes, Coco accidentally got sunburned on a cruise in the French Riveria. She obviously wore it well because everyone wanted her new colouring, upon her return to Paris, and thus the trends followed the fashion. Both men and women wore all-in-one suits that covered the chest, leaving arms and shoulders exposed to the sun.

Swimsuits with buttons sewn onto the shoulder straps, which served both functional and aesthetic purposes, were designed.

“The buttons helped swimsuits fit better, but also, some men would undo the buttons on one shoulder to let one side of the top fall down,” explains Christine. “Some men even rolled down their swimsuits, which led to the development of detachable tops.”

The Riviera Style exhibition runs until 29 August at Fashion and Textile Museum in London.


photo credit: Pinterest/Huff Post

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