Marine

'Exposed! The story of swimwear' exhibition traversing Down Under

'Exposed! The story of swimwea...
We've come a long way ... from shocking in the early 1900s (left) to blase in 2010, swimsuits, and our attitudes to them, have certainly changed (Images: Australian National Maritime Museum Collection)
We've come a long way ... from shocking in the early 1900s (left) to blase in 2010, swimsuits, and our attitudes to them, have certainly changed (Images: Australian National Maritime Museum Collection)
View 24 Images
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
1/24
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
Men's Jantzen trunks with detachable top 1930s
2/24
Men's Jantzen trunks with detachable top 1930s
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
3/24
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
4/24
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
Jantzen swimwear fashion photograph by Gervaise Purcell, 1950s (Image: Leigh Purcell)
5/24
Jantzen swimwear fashion photograph by Gervaise Purcell, 1950s (Image: Leigh Purcell)
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
6/24
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
Annette Kellerman c1900, Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star in her famous custom swimsuit - designed to allow for serious athletic swimming, unlike conventional women's swimwear of the period (Image: United States Library of Congress)
7/24
Annette Kellerman c1900, Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star in her famous custom swimsuit - designed to allow for serious athletic swimming, unlike conventional women's swimwear of the period (Image: United States Library of Congress)
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
8/24
Swimwear featuring at the "Exposed! The story of swimwear" exhibition
Black Lance's popular 'Brigadier' style swimsuit featuring a backless halter attached to skirt with inbuilt trunks. This swimsuit reflects the 1930s trend for revealing more of the body and strap free tanning. Black Lance Water Fashions was an Australian label established in 1931
9/24
Black Lance's popular 'Brigadier' style swimsuit featuring a backless halter attached to skirt with inbuilt trunks. This swimsuit reflects the 1930s trend for revealing more of the body and strap free tanning. Black Lance Water Fashions was an Australian label established in 1931
Swimwear pyjamas c1930
10/24
Swimwear pyjamas c1930
Cover of Modern Weekly Magazine, 12 May 1934 shows design for knitting your own woolen swimming costume
11/24
Cover of Modern Weekly Magazine, 12 May 1934 shows design for knitting your own woolen swimming costume
Jantzen swimwear fashion shoot on board the Matson liner SS Monterey, 1957. Photograph by Gervaise Purcell (Image: Leigh Purcell)
12/24
Jantzen swimwear fashion shoot on board the Matson liner SS Monterey, 1957. Photograph by Gervaise Purcell (Image: Leigh Purcell)
Jantzen swimwear fashion photograph by Gervaise Purcell, 1950s (Image: Leigh Purcell)
13/24
Jantzen swimwear fashion photograph by Gervaise Purcell, 1950s (Image: Leigh Purcell)
Memorabilia from the exhibition
14/24
Memorabilia from the exhibition
Memorabilia from the exhibition
15/24
Memorabilia from the exhibition
Sheet music for Janzten Australia's jingle ËœThere's nothing like a Jantzen in the world'. It was used in a 1951 advertisement for Nylastic swimsuits.
16/24
Sheet music for Janzten Australia's jingle ËœThere's nothing like a Jantzen in the world'. It was used in a 1951 advertisement for Nylastic swimsuits.
Black and white photograph of Swedish champion swimmer Arne Borg wearing a Speedo one-piece tank-style swimsuit. The swimsuit features the "racer back" design developed by Speedo. Arne Borg was one of the dominant swimmers of the 1920s, setting 32 world records in swimming between 1921 and 1929 (Photo: Powerhouse Museum)
17/24
Black and white photograph of Swedish champion swimmer Arne Borg wearing a Speedo one-piece tank-style swimsuit. The swimsuit features the "racer back" design developed by Speedo. Arne Borg was one of the dominant swimmers of the 1920s, setting 32 world records in swimming between 1921 and 1929 (Photo: Powerhouse Museum)
Beach advertising poster for Johnson's sun tan oil. The beach symbolized health and happiness - a scene commonly featured on posters during the 1950s. As the appeal of sunbathing and tanning grew, swimsuits became smaller
18/24
Beach advertising poster for Johnson's sun tan oil. The beach symbolized health and happiness - a scene commonly featured on posters during the 1950s. As the appeal of sunbathing and tanning grew, swimsuits became smaller
Magazine cover promoting a daring design
19/24
Magazine cover promoting a daring design
Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star Annette Kellerman, in her full length swimwear. c1900-1910 (Image: United States Library of Congress)
20/24
Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star Annette Kellerman, in her full length swimwear. c1900-1910 (Image: United States Library of Congress)
We've come a long way ... from shocking in the early 1900s (left) to blase in 2010, swimsuits, and our attitudes to them, have certainly changed (Images: Australian National Maritime Museum Collection)
21/24
We've come a long way ... from shocking in the early 1900s (left) to blase in 2010, swimsuits, and our attitudes to them, have certainly changed (Images: Australian National Maritime Museum Collection)
The first bikini
22/24
The first bikini
The monokini - no wonder it didn't catch on
23/24
The monokini - no wonder it didn't catch on
24/24

Swimwear fashion has progressed steadily over the past 100 or so years (if you discount Borat’s mankini). Design has moved from neck-to-knees woolen garments that women were encouraged to bathe in at the beach, to men’s Speedos, to skimpy Brazilian thongs, to Daniel Craig’s James Bond swimmer boxer trunks, to full body racing ‘buoyancy’ suits for Olympians. Who could forget screen sirens Esther Williams, Jane Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe posing in their swimsuits? To celebrate Australia’s contribution to the swimwear industry – in design and materials – a comprehensive exhibition titled "Exposed! The story of swimwear" is traversing that country, appearing at State museums.

Developed by the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Australia, the collection of swimwear garments, posters and memorabilia, magazine covers of the times, and a thorough history lesson in swimwear attire, is attracting healthy crowd numbers.

Australia, with its major cities situated along its seductive coastline of pristine beaches, clean water, good surf and a climate conducive to year-round swimming in some parts of the country, has been a fertile breeding ground for fashion and material design and experimentation in the swimwear industry ever since people went down to the water to enjoy themselves.

Lindl Lawton, Senior curator at the South Australia Maritime Museum, which is currently hosting the exhibition, says: “Swimwear has come a long way if you look at what women and men were wearing in the 1900s,” she says. “The Australian National Maritime Museum had been collecting the swimwear over many years but had nowhere to display it. So it decided to make the exhibition a traveling one and now it’s our turn to host it.”

Modest beginnings

Lawton explains that around the year 1900, modesty prevailed in society a lot more than it does now.

“Women didn’t swim back then,” she says. “They ‘bathed’ in the ocean. Swimming was something men did – and they used to do it naked before beaches became more populated and women arrived on the scene. It would have been almost impossible for women to swim anyway because they wore long woolen bathing suits that must have weighed a lot once they got wet and would also have been incredibly uncomfortable.

“But Annette Kellerman – a champion Australian swimmer and film star changed all that. Between 1909-1924 she made 12 films, five as a leading lady either as a mermaid or action hero doing underwater feats in men’s clothes. She was pro-active in promoting functional swimwear for women and scandalously donned a full body stocking (male) to swim.

Annette Kellerman c1900, Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star in her famous custom swimsuit - designed to allow for serious athletic swimming, unlike conventional women's swimwear of the period (Image: United States Library of Congress)
Annette Kellerman c1900, Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star in her famous custom swimsuit - designed to allow for serious athletic swimming, unlike conventional women's swimwear of the period (Image: United States Library of Congress)

“The exhibition showcases several of her spectacular stage costumes. In 1907 she was arrested in Boston, Mass., for wearing a one-piece, sleeveless, thigh length men’s-style bathers while working at a beach-side amusement park.”

Lawton says the exhibition details how the swimsuit transformed into a sporting and fashion garment after World War I, led by nations like France, the US, Britain and Australia.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that wool began to make way for better-suited materials like Lastex – an elasticized yarn used for swimsuits that was a forerunner lycra.

Well-known swimsuit company Speedo originated in Australia in 1914, but didn’t become known by its now famous brand name until 1928. The company was started by a young Scot named Alexander MacRae, who migrated to Australia in 1910 and set up an underwear manufacturing business called MacRae Hosiery Manufacturers. MacRae quickly expanded his operations to include swimwear. He then changed the name to MacRae Knitting Mills.

Black and white photograph of Swedish champion swimmer Arne Borg wearing a Speedo one-piece tank-style swimsuit. The swimsuit features the "racer back" design developed by Speedo. Arne Borg was one of the dominant swimmers of the 1920s, setting 32 world records in swimming between 1921 and 1929 (Photo: Powerhouse Museum)
Black and white photograph of Swedish champion swimmer Arne Borg wearing a Speedo one-piece tank-style swimsuit. The swimsuit features the "racer back" design developed by Speedo. Arne Borg was one of the dominant swimmers of the 1920s, setting 32 world records in swimming between 1921 and 1929 (Photo: Powerhouse Museum)

“The racer-back (narrow back panel with Y shaped shoulder straps) was invented by Speedo in 1927 to reduce fabric drag,” says Lawton. “It was famously worn by Swedish gold medalist Arne Borg in the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928.”

In 1955, Speedo introduced the use of nylon for their racing swimwear. Speedos/‘sluggos’ – were created by Australian designer Peter Travis in 1960 for his first collection for Speedo. Sitting on the hip rather than waist, this was a revolutionary new look for men’s swimwear. Speedo was also responsible for the controversial LZ Racer Fastsuit which made its debut in 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with input from 100 elite swimmers. So tight-fitting that it can take up to 15 minutes to put on and just as long to remove its seams are welded rather than sewn.

“Statistically, 94 percent of swimming gold medals at those Olympics were won by swimmers wearing the suit, raising questions about its performance-enhancing qualities,” says Lawton, quoting figures from the exhibition.

Behold the bikini

The first bikini
The first bikini

The bikini was designed by French designer Louis Reard in 1946. An explosive innovation in swimwear, it was aptly named after the atoll in the Marshall Islands where the US was testing the atomic bomb. Reard’s bikini was made from four triangles of cotton printed with newspaper type and fitted into packaging the size of a matchbox.

“Reard famously quipped ‘a bikini is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring’,” laughs Lawton. “There’s also another famous quote by American author and humorist, Garrison Keillor: ‘A girl in a bikini is like having a loaded pistol on your coffee table - there’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s hard to stop thinking about it.’”

Magazine cover promoting a daring design
Magazine cover promoting a daring design

Lawton adds that Australian designer Paula Stafford began making swimwear in the late 1940s and popularized the French bikini in Australia with bandeau tops and sarong wrap bottoms. In the 1950s she opened a boutique in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, called the Paula Stafford Fiesta Tog Shop that provided clients with a 24-hour made-to-order service.

Apparently, customers would attend the shop to be personally measured and fitted for their swimwear – nothing was off-the-rack.

Fashion moments

  • Ursula Andress’ white bikini, complete with hip-holstered dagger, as the Honey Ryder character in the 1961 James Bond movie, Dr No.
  • ‘Thong’ unisex design appeared on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s. – nicknamed ‘dental floss’.
  • Daniel Craig, as James Bond, emerging from the water in his La Perla swimmer boxer trunks in Casino Royale (2006).

A Burkini for Muslim (origins unknown) has recently been released. Though not fashioned in the ‘bikini’ style, its materials allow Muslim women to swim or bathe modestly.

Fashions that didn’t take on

The monokini - no wonder it didn't catch on
The monokini - no wonder it didn't catch on

  • Rudy Gernreich’s monokini was designed in 1964 – it was basically a topless swimsuit for women. Of the 3,000 produced, few were ever worn. Denounced by the Vatican, the bold design ignited worldwide debate over women appearing topless while swimming or sunbathing, says Lawton.
  • Borat’s ‘mankini’ (enough said).
  • The exhibition has already been to Sydney and Fremantle and after Adelaide will continue to Brisbane and Wagga Wagga, before finishing in Newcastle on February 6, 2011.

    1 comment
    Knut
    The "Burkini" originates from Saudi Arabia as the name of the dress worn by women in the car brochures when the car was at the beach. The vendor had hired some agency in Pakistan to draw a dress on the women - well that did this on my Newsweek as well, but the car brochures were done by pretty skilled artists. When the woman looked almost as if she wore a coloured wet-suite, we said she wore a pretty "Burkini". It had nothing to do with any reality - all Saudi women could only swim at private beaches, and since this was private - who cares. But suddenly someone, around 2000, had created the real thing providing "decency" at public beaches, just as in the brochures.