More Than a Swimsuit

As society advances through the ages, it develops different items of clothing to satisfy its varying needs. The path of developing fashionable swimming suits has been long since 1800s and has been developed to the modern swimsuits designed to use by people who engage in activities involving water such as swimming, diving or even water sports. In the 19th century, the most common manner of swimming was doing it naked. This was thought to be the best way of optimizing their performance. Therefore, the history of the development of swimming costumes involves the analysis of the long process involved from one generation to another.

Figure1: Photo of Swimsuit of 1900s

Initially, the swimming garments were meant to cover up as much skin as possible. But all that changed in 1907 when Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimmer, was arrested in Boston for indecent exposure for wearing a one piece, short-sleeved swimsuit. A judge declared that the garment was appropriate for swimming since it allowed unrestricted movement. Since then, it became socially acceptable to wear swimsuits in public. Eventually, rules and restrictions were imposed for the wearing of this garment. For example, women were allowed to show no more than 9 inches of their legs, on the contrary they would face a serious penalization.


Figure 2: Photo of Swimsuit of 1910

The need for a swimsuit was evident to people throughout the times, but the available garment options made this need improbable. Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans did all their swimming while nude. As time progressed and different cultures evolved, people redesign their swimwear to reflect the changing needs. The swimming costumes used in 1800s were not effective and never suited the need for speed while swimming, especially during swimming sports. After the end of World War II, many companies in Europe began to develop swimsuits designed to increase the speed of swimmers in the water. In the early 20th century, most of the swimming costumes were made of woolen material that was not meeting the required quality. This is because costumes usually became very heavy once they are wet and generally looked unattractive.

Figure 3: Photo of Swimsuits in 1920s

The significant development of modern swimsuits peeked during the 1924 British Olympic Games. During this competition, the teams involved in swimming competition used silk made outfits that have been advanced to the new swimsuits. Silk made wears to be more comfortable and lighter even when wet compared to the woolen made costumes that became heavy when wet. The rayon version of artificial silk was introduced in 1930s after the Olympics to improve the nature of the costumes used during the Olympic competition. In 1940s, the real technology in the swimwear production was introduced leading to the development of the current swimsuits used all over the world.

Figure 4: Photo of Swimsuits of 1930s

With these textile revolution designers such as, Claire McCardell developed a range of casual, elegant and comfortable beachwear garments for women to enjoy beach days. This decade did not only bring style and leisure, but it also revolutionized society with the launch of bikini by the French designer Louis Reared and Jacques Hem. As decades followed, combinations of shapes, prints and colors merged with different trends, altering the styles of a swimsuit according to the cultural movements and vital historical events.  

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Figure 5: Photo of Swimsuits of 1940s

After the introduction of the new technology in designing swimming costumes, the Amateur Swimming Association was formed to control the quality of the swimming suits manufactured. Since then, designers and manufactures of the swimwear had to focus on the policies and regulations set by this association. One of the main policies imposed by the association is that regarding to decency and appearance of costumes. Up to date the policy is applicable in companies that design and manufacture swimming costumes. However, the biggest challenge is the ability to produce costumes that are both attractive and comfortable to users without infringing their rights and causing a fashion offence.The solution to this critical challenge was devised in the 1950s when manufactures begun to use the man-made nylon to make the swimming costumes. The costumes made of nylon turned out to be more comfortable, cheap to produce and remained very light even when they became wet.

Figure 6: Photo of Swimsuits of 1950s

By 1960s, the swimming business was rapidly growing thus creating the need to develop swimming consumes that would enhance swimmers ‘speed even more. The Amateur Swimming Association raised an issue about the drag force that was caused by the friction experienced by swimmers during competitions. The industry engaged in a design to solve the issue of drag force thus leading to the development of the modern costumes.

Finally, in the 1980s, one of the biggest swimwear company, Speedo, developed the first nylon/Lycra swimsuit. Lycra material is very light and it is used in producing all sorts of clothing. Nylon/lycra costumes became the best swimsuit all over the world, and it remains the most popular and preferred choice for swimmers today. The same company has recently developed the most current swimsuit that mimic the movement of a shark fish and its currently used by athletes in Olympic swimming games.

Figure 7: Photo of Swimsuits of 1960s

The development process of swimming costumes had some influence on society, people’s culture, modern fashions, and modern lifestyles. The introduction of Lycra swimsuit had an intensive impact on society by changing the manner in which fabrics are used. Lycra made beachwear replaced old fashions that were thick and heavy for swimmers to comfortably perform their activities. This garment gained popularity around the world, hence becoming the main contributor to the success of many amateur and professional athletes involved in swimming competitions. This technology encouraged participation in sporting activities among people since swimsuits were very comfortable, and they reduced muscle fatigue of athletes thus boosting their performance.

Figure 8: Photo of Swimsuits of 1970s

The use of Lycra material in the manufacturing of swimming costumes was adopted in other clothing designs. The impact of this design on people increased interest for fitness among people, which improved their health status. It also accelerated the development of stretch jeans and bra that has facilitated faster integration of sports and fashion designs. The high comfort and durability of Lycra swimsuits made the clothing industry to grow and sports to be more enjoyable, especially swimming competitions.

Figure 9: Photo of Swimsuits of 1980s

Culturally, a swimsuit has had a profound effect on how people perceive women’s natural shape. Initially, society considered indecent to expose a person’s body, but the appreciation of women’s natural figure in all its shapely form is nowadays exciting. A research done by the Land’s Endclothing company shows that one of the main considerations modern women make when buying swimsuits is how other people will react to her when she is wearing such garment. The modern woman demands for revealing and concealing aspects in their garments, highlighting erogenous zones, while maintaining modesty. A swimsuit, as a fashion symbol, plays erotic role as well as moral, obtaining an acceptable equilibrium among society. 

Figure 10: Photo of Swimsuits of 1990s

In the modern world, the development of the current swimsuits has influenced fashion, especially in the developed countries such as the United States and European nations. Women view swimsuits such as a bikini as a sex symbol used to impress men. Therefore, most women in the US prefer swimsuits that make them attractive to men through exposing much of their body, unlike the old fashioned swimsuits in the 19th century that covered the entire body.

Some women undergo fitness exercises before summer in order to lose weight for the sake of fitting well in swimsuits. It has increased the culture of physical exercise by women in gyms in order to remain healthy and maintain a perfect body that makes them fit well in swimsuits and make them attractive. Thus, the development of new designs of swimsuits has influenced the culture of the modern society to a large extent.

Figure 11: Photo of Swimsuits of 2000s

The cultural implications of a swimsuit has been inescapable and far-reaching, penetrating foreign cultures and societies. This garment has remained essential in fashion and society, due to the fact that it reveals the change towards society’s perception of women’s natural body, giving them status and freedom. It also portrayed through the years the desire for leisure and life experiencing, as well for health and sports, in this way offering different life styles. This garment will keep evolving in order to fulfill the upcoming needs of a future generation.

Figure 12: Photo of Modern Men Swimsuit

The development of the modern swimsuits has also influenced the lifestyles of many people. The introduction of new swimming costumes has made the swimming activity to be enjoyable. Lycra made swimsuits are comfortable to users, thus encouraging many families to spend their holidays in leisure lifestyles of swimming. The use of modern designs has also boosted the self-esteem of people, especially women, which makes them enjoy good lifestyles. Swimsuits have also motivated people to engage more on fitness exercises.

Through swimming activities, many people have remained fit, thus, creating a healthy lifestyle among many families. Swimsuits have enabled families not only to have aquatic exercise in the swimming beaches, but also their personal tubs in their houses. The experience of hot water tubs causes physical and mental health through warm water therapy hence maintaining the body health at all times.

Figure 13: Photo of Modern Women Swimsuit

A swimsuit did not only become a fashion statement, which revolutionized styles and the perception of women in society, as well it offered different lifestyles associated with leisure and sports. Every year, many tourists flock tropical beaches worldwide to soak up sun and enjoy their vacation. Swimsuits are an essential ingredient to this exotic rite. Swimsuits can be a reflection of cultural behavior.

Many regions that have evolved a strong cultural tie to swimsuits include Australia, California, and Hawaii. Californian beaches are a surfer’s paradise and embrace water sports such as swimming, jet skiing, scuba diving, and water gliding. Hawaii, Spain, and other regions have a cultural connection to swimsuits mainly through their touristic petitions and choice of attractions. Swimsuits can be an integral part of expressing one’s chosen lifestyle. For instance, surfers prefer specific swimsuit brands tailored specifically for surfers. Sich brands as Billabong, Ripcurl, Speedo and Quicksilver become a reflection of the surfing lifestyle, and are associated with surf-wear that is functional and at the same time fashionable. In this way, a swimsuit becomes essential for these lifestyles, as well as swimming apparel, a fashion article, and a garment of cultural importance.

Figure 14: Photo of Modern Swimsuit

Swimsuits, oriented towards competitive sports as well for leisure, are experiencing the benefits of modern technological studies and innovation. The use of modern fabrics may lead to changes in color, texture and other characteristics to refine swimwear regarding to the environment and physical properties. New swimsuit possibilities that are undreamt of now will be a future reality because a swimsuit will evolve with humanity. As well, with the blending of culture and technology, swimsuits will experience various changes affecting both their functional and aesthetic features, in order to please upcoming sociological needs and desires. The evolution of a swimsuit is a reflection of the evolution of civilization itself. It is a visual representation of the changes in society and fashion needs of people.

Figure 15: Photo of Modern Women Swimsuit

There are multiple factors that affect the styles and the aesthetic properties of any clothing item, based on their target market. They include size, color, design and tailoring specifics such as cut and style, materials and textiles are decided as well as the performance of the garment for a specific purpose. Fashion designers have to keep in mind shape, style, and intended silhouette when designing swimsuits. The main policy on designing swimsuits is to maintain the quality and decency of the costume. Designers are obliged to make swimsuits that are durable and they give a user maximum comfort by being efficient in their use for swimming purposes.

Figure 16: Photo of Modern Men Swimsuit

The development of the modern swimsuits is significantly influencing the level of competition in the industry.

Although the demand for swimsuits is rapidly rising every day due to culture of leisure lifestyle building in many people, the demand for quality costumes still remains. Many upcoming athletes involved in swimming competition desire for costumes that are flexible and light with ability to overcome the drag force and allow a swimmer to move with more speed. The newly designed swimming costume by Speedo Company is still facing competition in the market from products of other companies despite its highly innovative technology. Therefore, regardless of the technology used, fashion and marketing play a big role in acquiring the largest market share for swimsuits. Competition in this market is more focused on the efficiency of the products in the user’s activities. In swimming competition that offers the largest market for costumes, there is a great need for more efficient swimsuits in order to boost performance of participants.

Figure 17: Photo of Modern Women Swimsuit

The development, production and use of swimsuit in the world can be used to analyze the changes experienced in the modern society. The manner in which the swimsuit technology is developing in many nations resembles the nature of the development in people’s lifestyles. In the past, people never realized the need for swimming costumes and they preferred to do it being nude. The development of swimsuits made society to change and use new styles and designs. The process of development of swimsuits has been long and influential on the lives of people in the entire world. The rapid development in the new designs of the swimming costumes is a virtual replica of the rapid changes in society today. Although the adoption of modern swimsuits is mostly evident in western culture, the culture is still spreading to developing countries through foreign tourism. Thus, people from developed countries are undergoing rapid change similar to the development of modern swimsuit. In addition, the rate of change among people in developing countries is slow thus representing the reduced rate of reception of the modern swimsuits in their culture.

Swimsuit development in the clothing industry is a clear representation of the rapid changes in fashion needs of people. People are developing diverse needs for new designs that suit their changing bodies better and make them more comfortable. The emergence of new swimsuit designs is meant to meet the changing needs of swimmers, especially for the different ages that have specific preferences for certain costumes.

New designs of swimsuits represent the dynamics of needs of fashion designs ranging from those looking for the modest designs that make them look prettier to those who are uncomfortable with suits that expose much of their body. The swimsuit market has been changing over the past years in developed countries. This is because the companies designing and manufacturing swimming costumes have identified the specific needs of swimmers both doing it for leisure and those doing it in competition. The different fashion designs needed by swimmers are been met through the production of different options for customers in terms of shapes, sizes and color preferences for all ages.

The methodology used for the development of this investigation and rationalization has been based on many methods that have provided detailed and credible information about swimsuits used all over the world. The main method used to gather the information is observation method. This involves observing swimsuits used by swimmers in the main beaches during the summer holidays. The research work also requires observation of costume designs used by participants in the world swimming competitions such as the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games. Through observation, I have learned much about various designs available for swimmers depending on their size, shape and color requirements and mainly based on their ages and lifestyle. Young swimmers appreciate the modern designs that are more comfortable and attractive. Aged swimmers only consider the nature of the material used to make swimsuits for durability, flexibility and efficiency when swimming.

Another methodology used in the research is conducting interviews with swimmers from diverse regions, age groups and social classes. I have conducted interviews with college students to get their views about the modern swimming costumes. My interviews were more focused on girls because they tend to have diverse tastes and preferences for swimsuits compared to men. My interviews with the old swimmers are meant to establish the difference between the old time costumes and the modern ones. Through interrogative interviews, I have been able to learn the long development path of swimsuits from the aged people who lived during the rapid stage of costume development.

In order to build an opinion about the matter of this garment, an investigation of a swimsuit was done, by referring to different books and articles about the development of a swimsuit through times. Also magazine articles about life styles and trends were used. Through reading different books, articles and magazines about the history of a swimsuit, I gained knowledge about the long and complex development path of swimsuits from early 1800s up to date. The new innovations made year by year are responsible for the development of the current swimsuits that are more comfortable, light and efficient thus boosting the speed of swimmers.  

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