When did bathing become swimming?

The voluminous bathing dress had been standard beachwear since the 1860s. After about 1910, women began to wear them sans corsets (scandalous!), but not until the 1920s did they begin to abandon their “bath flannels.” They began to swim—not just bounce in the waves—when knit-wear manufacturers introduced streamlined one-piece suits. 

Bathers at Asbury Park, 1908

Bathers at Asbury Park, 1908

Courtesy of Library of Congress

“I want to swim. And I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline.”

—Annette Kellerman, early advocate for swimwear, 1907

Women's bathing suit, 1885-1895

Women's bathing suit, 1885-1895

Bathers at Atlantic City, about 1900

Bathers at Atlantic City, about 1900

Courtesy of Library of Congress

When wet, a bathing dress of average size weighed 25 pounds; add to that a wet head wrap plus soggy stockings.

Under arrest in Chicago, 1922

Under arrest in Chicago, 1922

Early adopters of the new elastic-stitch tubular suits often found themselves at odds with “decency” regulations.