Swimwear Gets an Airing at Fashion and Textile Museum


From the Edwardian bathing dresses to the barely there bikini, what is considered socially acceptable and fashionable on the beach has come a long way over the last century. Indeed beachwear is constantly evolving – think the more recent mankini and burkini trends – reflecting changes in society. On May 22, the Fashion and Textile Museum in London will open “RIVIERA STYLE: Resort & Swimwear Since 1900,” an exhibition dedicated to the ever-evolving atire, looking beyond the swimsuit to include other beachwear, like exotic sarongs, beach pajamas, or boat neck Bretons.

While days by the beach became fashionable under the Victorians who saw swimming in the bracing English waters as a health cure, swimwear was worn only for swimming and then people quickly put on their more formal clothes. But this began to change in the 1920s explains curator Christine Boydell of De Montfort University, pointing out how the trend for sunbathing led to a radical approach to the design of beach attire. “By the 1930s, men’s and women’s suits had cut-away sections and later (women’s) two-piece models became popular, though many 1940s and 50s swimsuits still had modesty skirts. In the 1940s, swimwear became more like corsetry and a lot of companies, particularly Symington, used the idea of a ‘corset-cut’ as a selling point,” she says.


Highlights include early knitted swimwear, such as a men’s all-in-one with over briefs decorated with a cute little white dog appliqué, circa 1900s, along with pale blue swimming trunks by H&M modelled on those early over briefs and famously worn by actor Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale, a women’s leopard print swimsuit in rayon with a multi-lactron elastic yarn (1939) and stretch nylon jersey model from the 1970s.

The exhibition is also an opportunity to learn more about the evolution of textile as designers started to search for better fabrics that would keep their fitting intact, whether dry or wet. Or for instance, how recent swimwear textiles have started to include UV protection or as a second skin to improve speed (Teflon coated Lycra) in competitive swimming.

The exhibition will run until August 30.

As first published on BlouinArtinfo.com