SWIMWEAR AND SEASIDE CLOTHING

The British seaside holiday developed during the Nineteenth Century. The South East region has a number of popular seaside towns and resorts including Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs in Kent and Brighton, Worthing and Eastbourne in Sussex.

One of the early films in the Screen Archive South East’s collection is a 1925 council publicity film for Margate. Entitled ‘Magical Margate’, it promotes the town as a fashionable resort, advertises the available activities and amenities and draws attention to the health-giving properties of the sea.


SEASIDE PADDLING

Title: Magical Margate
Date: (ca.1925)
Film-maker: Community Production

In the above clip from Magical Margate, this scene looks like an impromptu paddle in the sea whilst visiting the resort of Margate. The woman in the centre of the frame wears a smart long skirt and silk blouse, and holds a clutch bag. She also sports a large black bow in her hair and a pearl necklace.


SWIMWEAR 1920S

Yellow wool bathing suit with attached shorts (c.1920)

Title: Yellow wool bathing suit with attached shorts
Date: (c.1920)
© Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

In 1920 bathing costumes were one-piece and sleeveless. Machine-knitted jersey and cotton fabrics produced better fitting costumes. The new woollen materials revealed the contour of the body but after contact with water they stretched and lost their shape. Here is an example from Worthing Museum & Art Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Title: People and Places
Date: (1930s)
Film-maker: Lance House

This clip shows men and women wearing very similar bathing suit designs. The idealised silhouette for women in the 1920s was straight and androgynous. This scene demonstrates how knitted jersey materials reacted to water. When the wearer emerges from the sea, the bathing suit has lost its shape and is being pulled down by the weight of the water contained in the fabric.


Title: Summer 1929
Date: (1929)
Film-maker: Ralph Staley

This clip shows men, women and children of various ages wearing one-piece, sleeveless scooped neckline costumes.  The older man’s costume is knee length, while the other bathing suits seen are shorter, falling to the thigh.  The women’s costumes are the most decorative – one has three diagonal strips emblazoned across the torso, the other has a loosely slung belt at hip level. Both wear decorative swimming hats. One hat shows the influence of the Art Deco movement with a geometric pattern, while the other woman’s hat is embellished with three daisies.


SWIMWEAR 1930S

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Title: Local News Film
Date: (1936-1937?)
Film-maker: Bognor Regis Film Society

This film is part of a local newsreel depicting events in and around the area. This clip shows a women’s bathing suit competition which took place in Bognor Regis in the 1930s. There are examples of innovative styles of swimwear. All are still one-piece costumes but their departure from the heavy woollen 1920s costume highlights how much the body was revealed and displayed in various leisure and commercial settings by the 1930s.


HALTERNECK SWIMSUITS

With the Bentley in France and switzerland (1939)

Title: With the Bentley in France and switzerland
Date: (1939)
Film-maker: Joseph Emberton

This shot of the back of a woman’s halterneck bathing costume reveals the material used. In the 1930s swimwear had moved on from the baggy jersey or woollen suits to stiff ruched cotton. This was known as matletex – cotton shirred on elastic thread. It was pioneered by Fred Cole of Cole of California. The West Coast of America pioneered swimwear from the 1920s.


antzen white cotton ruched costume embroidered with red cherries Date: (1930s)Title: Jantzen white cotton ruched costume embroidered with red cherries
Date: (1930s)
© Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

This bathing suit from Worthing Museum’s collection of dress is very similar to the one worn in the film. It features embroidered cherries and demonstrates that swimwear in the 1930s was designed to be attractive not just practical.

Jantzen was a swimwear company founded in North America in 1910. In the 1920s the company became international – selling in America, Asia and Europe. The Jantzen red diving girl logo became recognised around the world. The company continued to dominate the swimwear market in the 1930s, when they introduced new styles and fabrics to their range.

 

 

 


SWIMSUIT MOTIFS

Title: People and Places
Date: (1930s)
Film-maker: Lance House

It is possible to see a motif of an anchor on the left hand side of the woman’s bathing costume as she moves towards the camera before sitting down to sunbathe. There also appears to be a motif on the right hand side, but it is unclear as to what it depicts.


Detail of navy blue one-piece bathing costume with modesty skirt showing Jantzen motifTitle: Detail of navy blue one-piece bathing costume with modesty skirt showing Jantzen motif
Date: (1930s)
© Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

Motifs were being used in swimwear, as seen in those produced by Jantzen. A Jantzen swimming costume with its famous emblem of a girl diving wearing a red bathing suit can be seen at the Worthing Museum & Art Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


TWO PIECE BATHING COSTUMES

Joce and Gill at Home (1936-1940)

Title: Joce and Gill at Home
Date: (1936-1940)
Film-maker: Joseph Emberton

Mrs. Emberton was a follower of fashion and, in this still from a film dating from the late 1930s, she shows that she was more daring than most by wearing a two-piece bathing costume. Bikinis (as they would be called in the 1940s) first appeared in the 1930s but were high waisted and did not expose the navel. They did not become widely popular until 1945 when they revealed the entire midriff.

In the film, all three family members wear rubber swimming caps that fasten under the chin. Such caps were considered a necessity for swimming to keep hair dry and maintain scrupulous hygiene.


CHILDREN’S BATHING SUITS

Title: [Summer Seaside Holiday And Family Scenes]
Date: (1929)

Film-maker: Dr. Catherine Violet Burne & Dr. Thomas Burne

This clip shows children in one-piece bathing costumes with slight variations in length or contrasting colour between the bodice and shorts. All have the same tubular silhouette and one girl wears a belt.


Title: Joce and Gill at Home
Date: (1936-1940)
Film-maker: Joseph EmbertonIn the above clip, the young girls appear in matching coral-red bathing costumes made from knitted jersey. The costumes sit low at the top of the legs and have two white straps that reach over the shoulders and tie into a bow at the back. The bathing suits are not identical. Jocelyn’s costume reaches to the middle of the back in an arch, and Gillian’s is slightly higher on her back and the straps cross over before tying in a bow. Although bathing costumes remained fairly uniform for children during the decade, such small variations in style and detail added decoration and interest to their design.


MEN’S SWIMMING TRUNKS

Title: With the Bentley in France and Switzerland
Date: (1939)
Film-maker: Joseph Emberton

A number of men at the French holiday resort seen in this clip, wear swimming trunk. This innovation did not completely replace the traditional body bathing suit until the 1940s. However, in an account held in the Mass Observation Archive written in 1937, a male resident in Brighton recalled that, “when I was sunning on the beach I thought of my wet middle (I use trunks), was alternatively thankful I discarded my old bathing suit and sorry that, being a nudist, I had to wear trunks at all.” (MOA: 58/1/A, 13 July 1937, p.2)