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Bathing Suit

Early 20th century bathing suit

Next time you're groaning about the lack of fabric in today's swimming suits, remember that more isn't necessarily better. Consider this early 20th century bathing costume.

Although early 1900s suits reveal few of the body's imperfections, they are also hot and restrictive. Often made of dark-colored wool, costumes from this era were designed for wading or immersion rather than physical exertion.

By the 1920s people were demanding a change. Costumes became less restrictive as swimming was taken up for exercise and athleticism. Women's and men's suits quickly became almost indistinguishable.

In 1916, though, when Martha Farnsworth of Topeka wrote the following passage in her diary, gender distinctions in bathing costumes were still observed.

"While the boys were at the Dam pool fishing this morning, the girls put on [the] boys' suits . . . it was all done in a spirit of fun, but Ronald McCord got awfully mad about it."

The cotton dress and bloomers pictured above date from 1900 to 1920. They were worn by Ivison Scott Hanna of Howard, Kansas. The suit also includes a matching wool cape (not pictured) to conceal the clingy costume after a dip.

Entry: Bathing Suit

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1999

Date Modified: May 2018

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.