The fashion industry and athletic wear have got us used to seeing the most dynamic swimwear around. In more recent years we have indeed admired some intriguing developments when it comes to swimwear with designers being inspired by biomimetics and a scientific approach to create revolutionary ultrasonically welded super stretch fabrics modelled off shark skin.
The swimsuits donned by some of the athletes at the current Olympic Games are indeed designed and made with technological fibers that help propelling the human body through water, improving in this way an athlete's performance (that's why some critics accuse these garments of giving swimmers an unfair advantage...).
Yet it wasn't always like this and going back in history you will find rather baggy swimsuits like the ones donned by Australian swimmers Mina Wylie and Fanny Durack at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
Museum archives can help us going backwards in time and rediscover pieces that may seem quite beautiful yet at the same time rather uncomfortable to modern swimmers.
Take this American two-piece bathing suit from the '40s from the Met Museum archive. The silhouette of the high-waist pants and top perfectly conformed to the then fashionable style; the elastic at the brief's waistband and the button closure at centre back assured the wearer the piece was functional and easy to wear, while its blue and white palette and fish/waves motif may point us towards classic summer themes, but the main material - thick wool - may represent a nightmare for contemporary swimmers.
Yet bathing suits were originally made with wool and cotton, especially when they first appeared in the mid-19th century, and, while they must have been uncomfortable in very warm weather and when soaked, they were probably quite useful when the wind started rising and it got a bit chilly. The bonus on this bathing suit? The joyful sea-inspired patterns still look very cute and fashionable even after all these decades.
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