1928 Swimmers on the dock in Germany

A bathing suit made of…wool? That’s right. In the 1920s, the idea of going to the beach and actually getting into the water to swim was still relatively new. Functionality in swimwear was not as important as fashion, so the prevailing theory was that wool would help keep you warm. As swimming for recreation came into vogue in the 1920s, makers of swimwear had to adapt and make swimwear, well, for swimming. Jantzen revolutionized swimwear material with a stretchy ribbed jersey that fit more snug than regular jersey and certainly more comfortable than thick wool.

1923- Ready for the Beach

This made it easier to swim, but it also showed off more of a woman’s curves. Necklines dropped to deep boat necks or V-necks. Arm holes grew bigger to to making real swimming easier. Colors were as vibrant as other ’20s sportswear- red, blue, black, gray and kelly green with contrasting stripes. An optional white rubber belt helped keep the two piece suit from floating up in the water. An “aviator” style rubber swim cap fit as tight as a cloche hat with an optional strap under the chin. A swim cap helped keep a gal’s bobbed hair from losing its shape. The idea of swimming was very popular — the actual sport was limited to serious athletes. Most beach goers merely played by the water, waded and maybe doggy paddled around in shallow waters.

Mid 1920s wool swimsuit

As swimwear also became shorter, women had to be on the lookout for the beach police who patrolled the area with measuring tape in hand. These skin censors would measure the distance between the bottom of a woman’s bathing suit and her knee. Too much bare skin and that could result in a hefty $10 fine or even being hauled off to jail! Most of these modesty rules were lifted by the mid twenties — too many women simply didn’t care to follow them and far too many men enjoyed the new view.

1922 Beach Police Modesty Check

1926 Two Piece Striped Swimsuit

1926 pattern swimsuit

Modest women still could wear the swim dress –– a longer skirt over attached shorts. However, Jantzen created a very popular suit in 1921 that looked like it was two pieces. If you were to sew a tank top onto a pair of swim trunks today, you would have something similar to the Jantzen suit. Still, swim trunks or skirts typically could not be higher than a few inches above the knee and women were often required to wear black stockings and shoes. At first, stockings were rolled down to above the knee but kept on rolling down to ankle level. Why wear them at all was the attitude by the early ’30s.

1922 swimsuits and bathing caps at the public pool

1922 modest swim dresses

Swim Shoes

1924 Swimming Beach Shoes- Duck canvas and rubber slippers

What about footwear? Some women simply wore flat street shoes over their stockings but the truly fashionable wore their beach boots. Lace up boots rising above the calf were the most common in the early twenties. They look like men’s wrestling shoes today. By the mid twenties lower beach slippers made of Duck canvas resembled flat Mary Jane’s or Oxfords. All rubber, slip on shoes were another new item and were best suited for rocky beaches, rivers and lakes. People of the twenties used natural waters more than pools — they were after all less polluted back then. I have some links to 20s canvas shoes here.

1920s laced beach shoes

1922 swim shoes, boots and oxfords

Beauty Contests

Colorized Swim Postcard

Sexiness in swimwear evolved slowly. Catalina Swimwear pushed a few boundaries with its backless Rib Stitch 5 bathing suit, but what really seemed to join the idea of sexy and swimwear was the growth of bathing beauty pageants. In 1921, the Atlantic City Business Men’s League took the advice of a local newspaper columnist and added a bathing beauty completion to its post-Labor Day Atlantic City Fall Frolic. Women in bathing suits competed against other women from other cities who earned the trip to Atlantic City by winning local competitions. Catalina was one of the earliest sponsors of this contest, which morphed into the Miss American pageant in 1940.

Swimsuit Competitions Involved showing off dancing talents too.

Bathing beauty contests were not only found on the East Coast. In California, in towns like Newport Beach, women in one-piece tank suits and beach boots literally paraded up and down the boardwalks. Not all of the California bathing beauties were there just to get a tan or win a beauty contest though. For some, it was the road to stardom. It worked for Carole Lombard. Before she became an acting legend and wife to Clark Gable, Lombard appeared on film as one of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties in 1928.

1923 Bathing Suit Contest- Notice more swim dresses

1925 Bathing Suit Contest – Belted swimsuits were In style this year

1926 Bathing Beauty Contest- Looks more like a Miss America Pageant

1920s Men’s Swimsuits

1922- Men and Women at the beach

1924 Men Swimsuit- Navy Blue or Brown with White Stripes

Women were not the only ones to get tighter swimsuits. Men’s swimwear also slimmed down to show off his new athletic body. In many ways, men’s and women’s suits were nearly identical. A deep cut ribbed wool tank top over a snug fitting pair of shorts. The “skirt” of the top came from knee-length a few years before to mid-thigh level. It was “too much” to raise the top any further revealing men’s personal parts. Instead, more suit material was removed from under the arms and around the back- supposedly making it easier to swim but mostly to reveal more muscles.

Late 1920s men’s swimsuit

Vintage late 20s mens swimsuit (it is wool and it is itchy)

By 1926, the two-piece, non-skirted, swimsuit made its debut. The top was often white or striped and the trunks a dark color. It was almost always worn with a belt, and the trunks came with belt loops. The separate pieces and lack of cover-up was quite shocking. Athletic swimmers were the first to wear them.

Miss Fisher series at the beach

1928 mens two piece swimsuit

Men’s suits were also made of wool or ribbed cotton in very bright colors — red, purple, yellow, pale blue, navy blue, and the very popular orange. White or black stripes outlining the edges and skirt were equally common. White rubber belts were popular in the mid twenties — just like the ladies. Shoes also were nearly identical with men in lace up flat Oxfords made of canvas or all rubber slip ins.

1926 Men’s and Women’s Swimsuits, Belts, Caps and Shoes

Mid 1920s swimwear

Swimsuits – Make or Buy Your Own

Making a men’s or women’s 1920s swimsuit isn’t too difficult- Find an extra long cotton ribbed tank top and a pair of biking shorts. Add stripes and edging using binding tape or buy a “ringer tank top” with contrast edging already attached. You can also paint on stripes (see below.) Add a white elastic belt and swim cap, sunglasses and done!

This tutorial shows you how to make a swimsuit from a men’s T-shirt (sewing required.)

My quick and easy 20s swim costume: A tank top (needs to be longer) over bike shorts and a white elastic belt. Tall black socks and canvas shoes.

DIY Swimsuit easy! Start with a long tank top and matching knit shorts and paint on stripes. Add a white belt if you wish. Works for women’s, men’s and kids swimsuits

For men, the above tank plus shorts works well, too. For a mid- to late-1920s style look at a wrestling singlet also called a bodysuit or unitard. These one piece, snug fitting suits have the same silhouette as ’20s swimwear. I would choose cotton or Lycra, if you plan to swim in it. You may also want to order 1 or two sizes up to get a looser, less body building, vintage look. These suits work well for 1920s strongman costumes too.

Oscar wrestling suit doubles as 20s/30s swimsuit

For a teens and early ’20s swimsuit that is boxier, I took a cotton Henley shirt and a pair of basic swim trunks and trimmed them in binding tape. You could also use a basic cotton striped T-shirt worn over a pair of trunks, too. Most ready-made 1920s swimsuit costumes are striped. See below.

Men’s Swimsuit (circa 1915-1920) I made of Oscar using a Henley shirt and swim shorts, trimmed in binding tape.

Our group of 20s swimwear at Lake Tahoe

Shop Women’s 1920s Swimsuits

For genuine vintage swimsuits shop at Glamour Surf

Shop Men’s 1920s Swimsuits

Make your own with a long tank top and shorts.

1920s Beach Parasols

Lovely parasol and swimsuit calls for a vacation to Ireland’s beaches.

All that fun in the sun made the suntan fashionable. CoCo Chanel claims she made it trendy for the wealthy to have a tan instead of it being a sign of poverty. Men and women played in the sun with little regard to sun damage. They wore colored glasses to shade their eyes and a sun hat if their hair was unsightly after a swim.

Love the Butterfly Parasol

The parasol was a frequent item taken to the beach or more likely picked up from a vendor on the beach. They were fun, fashionable and trendy. Holding one and posing for the camera was something every young woman had to do. They had little to do with sun protection.

Fussy lace parasols of the Victorian age were replaced by the beautiful Oriental style oil or cotton paper parasols with short wood handles. The Asian or Art Deco designs are works of art. If it wasn’t for the popularity as a seaside souvenir they would have gone out of fashion before 1920. As such they stayed around till the 1930s.

Paper Parasol Vintage Cherry Blossom Parasol 1923 Soap Ad at he Beach

Sisters with Parasols 1922 -A parasol photo at home 1922 – Summer Dresses and Parasols

Swimwear & Bikinis

Women’s swimwear

Treat yourself to a cossie for every occasion! If you’re all about lounging by the pool or on the sand, you might be more interested in the swimmers that give you the perfect tan, rather than stay on in the surf! If this sounds like you, go for a string bikini in a cheeky brazilian cut, and invest in a fresh beach towel to lie on.

If you’re more concerned with bathers that will stay on while you swim laps or body surf, we’ve got you (securely) covered. A bikini top in a fixed moulded bra design is a good option, as is a one-piece swimming costume, or a bikini featuring a sturdy halter top.

Be sure to buy sun smart when it comes to updating your swimwear collection. Rash shirts are great for protecting your shoulders from the strong sun during a midday swim, and of course a cool hat will keep you free from sunburn in style.

How to find the best swimwear online

We’ve got all you need to splash in style! Browse our huge range of swimwear, from cute bikini tops and bottoms, one piece bathing suits, hats, towels, and more. Our online catalogue has loads of local and internationally designed cosies and swimmers to suit your favourite style. Once you find your ideal swimmers, slip into them at your nearest Westfield, or buy online in just a click or two.

Boho, Strappy + More -> Swimsuits for Women

Make your escape this season with women’s swimsuits set in unforgettable silhouettes, gorgeous hues, and cute patterns. This summer, we’re floating from shoreline to poolside in bathing suits that make a major splash. Think swimwear with bohemian touches, like crochet bikinis and off-the-shoulder tops, plus playful prints too cute to cover up. Welcome long days at the beach with our collection of effortlessly simple designs. Go sleek with solid, high-cut one-pieces that are as versatile as your favorite bodysuit. Or, take a dip in a strappy two-piece bathing suit that transitions smoothly with a cami and cutoffs. Coverage levels range from modest long-sleeve rashguards to sexy cutout bikinis. Explore scoop necks, v necks, halters, high waists, tassel ties, and so much more. With styles from of-the-moment women’s swimsuit designers, like Acacia, Mara Hoffman, and Solid & Striped, it’s never been easier to make waves.

In need of other beach day essentials? Dive into our women’s sandals collection, brimming with coastline-ready looks that partner gorgeously with any of our bathing suits. Slide on sky-high gladiators with a boho off the shoulder swimsuit. Slip into a simple set of nude leather slides to complete a cute minimalist look. For a high-impact outfit off the shoreline, layer on one of our bohemian beach dresses and a roomy tote bag. Here you’ll find swimwear to wear from sunrise to sunset, water to wherever. With full-spectrum color options, from classic black to brilliant blues, there’s a bathing suit for every style. Shop our entire women’s swimsuit collection and discover your one-of-a-kind match.

100 cotton bathing suits

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