While swimming has been around in some form or another for centuries, it has only gained true recognition as an activity relatively recently. In the early 20th century, swimming gained notoriety as a legitimate pastime, and therefore designated clothes for such an activity needed to be created. Specialized clothing worn for swimming is relatively recent in the long history of people wearing clothes. The term swimsuit was formally coined in 1915, creating its own space in the fashion industry forever.
Swimwear, just like any other form of fashion, parallels the changing styles and trends of the times, including colors and silhouettes. For example, swimsuits for men and women were generally similar until the 1930s and 1940s, when styles for men shifted to 2 pieces outfits and finally into the concept of the swim trunks that is seen more popularly today. These suits also reveal the technological and design advances behind swimwear. This includes the advent of bra-sized swimwear for a more specialized fit, as well as a bathing suit which attempted to eradicate tan lines.
This small collection of swimwear acts as an extension of the “Sports & Fashion” exhibit exploring the overlaps in sportswear and fashion over the last few centuries. For a closer look at these swimsuits, visit the Thompson Library Special Collections Display Cases. This exhibit has been extended through July 7, 2019.