Woollen swimwear, popular a century ago, might soon make a splash on Australian beaches again.
In the 19th century, when natural fibres were the only option, beach-goers donned costumes made of wool or cotton. Swimsuits worn at the water’s edge or in the crashing waves transformed across the 20th century from natural fibres to sleek, high-performance synthetics.
But with concern mounting over microplastics and the search for sustainable options, the woollen swimsuits of the past could be the swimwear of the future.
Shifting (and shrinking) swimsuits
Plenty who enjoyed a day on the sand in the first decades of the 20th century did so fully clothed. It was not uncommon for men to dress for the beach in three-piece suits or for women to wear gowns that fell to their ankles.
But women who ventured into the water donned belted, knee-length bathing gowns that featured bloomers to conceal the legs. Men’s two-piece bathing costumes revealed a little more, with a top extending to the thighs paired with shorts to the knees.
In the space of a couple of decades, however, swimsuits radically changed. Styles altered as attitudes to the exposure of bodies relaxed, shifting ideas around public morality.
The 1930s witnessed a rise in topless bathing for men as they adopted trunks. Some had half skirts at the front, and many sported belts with buckles to keep them firmly on the waist.
Women’s swimwear now revealed the arms, legs and back – then even more when bikinis appeared on Australian beaches in 1950. Shock rippled across the sand.
Swimwear had reached body-baring new dimensions.