Why, oh why god of swimming did you make swimsuits skimpy figure strangling lycra sheaths? WHY?
A trip down swimsuit memory lane
Ok, so not many people describe their swimsuit as the most flattering piece of clothing they own. In my time in the world of women's swimwear, I have frequently heard women mourn the fact that they have to wear swimwear at all.
Of course swimwear hasn't always comprised figure strangling lycra sheaths - it has evolved profoundly over the last several hundred years. I thought I'd take a look back at some of our earlier swimsuit sporting sisters to see who is really better off, US or THEM?
Well if we're going to go right back, what better place to start that the Georgian Bathing Machines, invented by Benjamin Beale in the 1700's. If you have read Persuasion or seen Judy Dench play Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown you may have encountered one of these vehicles. A Georgian lady would climb aboard, change into a muslin bathing shift and then be pulled by horses into the sea. Once 75% submerged, the lady could climb down the stairs of the machine and have some sea exercise - and yes that's right not an ankle glimpsed. She remains perfectly modest.
This was all well and good for a very small number of very rich women, but as soon as the railway system spread, women from different walks of life (who couldn't necessarily afford there own personal Bathing Machine) started to take to the seaside, and a pressing need for new modest swimwear fashion came about (the muslin shift was simply too saucy). Flannel swim dresses became all the rage. Well sort of. The all covering heavy garments were phenomenally cumbersome and this is the point were we have to give thanks to our sister Amelia Bloomer - who championed (you guessed right) bloomers.
Well trousers really, and by the mid 19th century we were all sporting belted swim trousers. They were still fairly silly but certainly more practical that their predecessors the weird machine and the giant dress and yet they didn't become a common sight until the 1920's when women started to wear the odd pair of trousers more generally.
We must also give a shout out to The Rational Dress Society, which formed in 1881 and gave credence to Ms Bloomer's notions of practical clothes. They were responsible for championing whacky notions like wearing trousers instead of a heavy skirt while cycling. Thanks in part to them swimwear fashion evolved once more (I imagine the number of cycling accidents and drowning incidents probably decreased too). By the Edwardian era we had trousers with short capped sleeved woollen over dresses. And as the years pressed on the over dresses and trousers got shorter and shorter the neck line creeped down lower and lower.
By the 20th century swimwear began to resemble swimwear as we know it. In fact the Athletic Trunk Suits of the 1920s look quite similar to the new speed suits worn by Olympians today (although they were made of wool and probably weighed a ton). In the 30's we switched wool for cotton and in 1946 the Bikini was invented. Well sort of - women of Crete sported them thousands of years ago. When the 60's rolled around we switched cotton for lycra.
So that's the picture. But the sisters of have a new problem. Heavy cumbersome dresses are no longer an issue but we do turn our noses at the scores and scores of skimpy ill fitting mass produced dental floss - otherwise known as most of the swimwear on the market today. So for any of you who can't afford your own personal Bathing Machine, maybe you should check out some of our stuff. Sue Rice Swimwear has taken the challenge of making swimwear that women ACTUALLY LIKE - which a) fits b) looks amazing and c)supports busts and tummies. It's a scary world out there, but there is hope.