Girls on the beach, bow down to Annette Kellerman!

This summer on the beach, unless you are an advocate of the burqini, there is a good chance that you wear a swimsuit which would have gotten you sent you to jail or at least would have cost you a hefty fine barely over a hundred years ago.

You would have been fine two or three milleniums ago though, as we can see on Minoan and Roman paintings and mosaics. The two-piece seems to have been in vogue back then, before the arrival of puritan aesthetics that came with Judeo-Christian morals.


Villa Romana del Casale (Sicily), early 4th century A.D.

Well into the 19th century, women wore bathing gowns and “double-suits” by the seaside. These were fierce heavy with fabric, lining, ruffles…and with weights sewn inside the lining so that the dress would not float and uncover the body. Not exactly practical, but protecting one’s modesty to the standards of the time.

The Bath Corporation (UK) official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed: “No Female person shall at any time hereafter go into a Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a decent Shift on their bodies.

Late 19th century bathing dress 
The turning point into the modern era is largely credited to professional swimmer (later actress, writer and business woman) Annette Kellerman, from Australia. She was the first to wear – and fight for the right to wear – real swimsuits, rather than bathing suits; that means items that were fitted to the body in order to allow free movement in the water.

Her stance attracted considerable controversy worldwide, and she even got herself arrested and charged with indecent exposure in the US.

However this new style, form-fitting, was so appealing that all the efforts to censor it proved in vain, and the “Annette Kellerman” was adopted by legions of women, to the point where the swimmer herself launched her own line of swimsuits.

After this seminal moment, the tide could not be stopped and the amount of cloth used kept on decreasing steadily. Ten yards of fabric in 1905…to just one yard in 1945.

The two-piece bathing suit became quite common in the 40’s, and its popularisation is partly the result, strangely enough, of war-time rationing. The US government decreed a compulsory 10% reduction in the amount of cloth allowed to be used for bathing suits…hence the uncoverig of the midriff!

1945 two-piece…just before the bikini revolution
The year 1946 marks the official birth of the even more revealing bikini. Named after the Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands) and designed by Louis Réard, it was famously modelled by an 18 year old nude dancer, Micheline Bernardini, who became an overnight sensation…amongst male admirers, who soon inundated her with fan mail.

The first bikini, worn by Micheline Bernardini at the Molitor pool in Paris
Today we have the one-piece, the bikini, the microkini, the monokini, the tankini, myriads of hybrid forms of all these, plus lesser known styles like the previsouly mentionned burquini (from Burqua), or the pubikini, of which no photograph remains, sadly, because the concept is quite funny (look it up yourself).

Dsquared produces (through a license to manufacturer ISA Seta) a range of funky, colourful, sexy beachwear items for the ladies. Below are a few examples, including the “cover-up dress” for the nostalgic of the olden days…of just for cocktails at sunset.

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Model Caroline Trentini, “Diamonhead” collection
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