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October 29, 2014

Before the Modern Day Bikini: 33 Interesting Vintage Photos That Show Swimwear Fashion of the Early 20th Century

It was in the early 1800s that people began to flock to the beaches for seaside amusement. With the introduction of railroads, ocean-side beaches became even more popular for sunny recreations. Along with this new outdoor pastime came the need for a stylish garment for the privileged lady of fashion.

By the end of the 19th century people were flocking to the oceanside beaches for popular seaside activities such as swimming, surf bathing, and diving. The clumsy Victorian-style bathing costumes were becoming burdensome. A need for a new style bathing suits that retained modesty but was free enough to allow the young lady to engage in swimming was obvious.

By 1910 bathing suits no longer camouflaged the contours of the female body. The yards of fabric used in Victorian bathing skirts and bloomers were reduced to show a little more of the figure and to allow for exposure to the sun.

Up until the first decades of the 20th century, the only activity for women in the ocean involved jumping through the waves while holding on to a rope attached to an off-shore bouy. By 1915, women athletes started to share the actual sport of swimming with men and thus began to reduce the amount of heavy fabric used in their billowing swimsuits.

Here we collected some interesting vintage pictures of swimwear fashion from the early 20th century:

Annette Kellerman, c. 1903 - 1913. Publicity photo in her self-designed swimwear, considered rather daring at the time. Annette Kellermann (1887 – 1975) was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville and film star, writer, and advocate for the change of women's swimwear.

Two girls in Zebra-style swimsuit, ca. 1906.

Annette Kellerman reclines on diving board wearing her self-designed swimwear, 1909.

Annette Kellerman in her famous custom swimsuit, ca. 1900.

Badeleben, Heringsdorf, Ostsee, 1909.

Swimmer Annette Kellerman, in her swimwear full length, lying on floor, facing front. Not dated. Probably late 1900s or early 1910s.

Family in front of beach chairs, ca. 1900.

Woman swimwear, ca. 1905.

U.S. singer and Vaudeville star Arthur Fields with his wife and child, posed in swimwear with hose washing their Stutz automobile, ca. 1919.

Men and a woman with bathing machines in shallow water at a beach, ca. 1913.

Phyllis Haver was a Mack Sennett's bathing beauty, 1917.

Photograph of middle-aged man in swimwear of the era at sea beach at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, 1914.

People attending a beauty contest held at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., 1919

The victorious English 400 m. women's relay swimming team at the Stockholm Olympic Games. Postcard, 1912: Belle Moore, Jennie Fletcher, Annie Speirs, Irene Steer.

Bernard Cyril Freyberg (later Sir Bernard) on a diving board over what appears to be the sea. The steep hills in the background indicate that the location is possibly Wellington. In the background a large crowd is watching the events taking place, 1914.

Photograph of woman in swimwear of the era at sea beach at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, 1914.

President of Germany Friedrich Ebert and others swimming in lake, 1919.

Family in a beach of Borkum, 1910.

William T. Burgess, who swam the English Channel on Sept. 6, 1911. He was the second person to successfully complete a swim of the English Channel after Matthew Webb.

Swimmer Claire Farry, posing standing in swimsuit with her hands and feet bound by ropes, ca. 1910s.

U.S. singer and Vaudeville star Arthur Fields standing on beach in swimsuit, holding bottle at his mouth to pose as if he was drinking, ca. 1910s.

ca. 1900

American actor Gloria Swanson (1899 - 1983) stands on tiptoes on the prow of a motorboat while Teddy the dog sits with his paws on the steering wheel in a still from director Clarence G Badger's film Teddy at the Throttle (1917).

Group of bathers being photographed at Hanlan's Point, Toronto, Canada, 1913.

Jack London at Waikiki, 1915.

Keystone studios "Bathing Beauties". Hollywood film women in swimwear, 1916.

Mack Sennett's bathing beauties posed on automobile, Washington, D.C., ca. 1919.

Alice Maison in bathing suit, standing with one foot in ocean, muff on right hand and left hand raised, ca. 1918.

Marie Prevost was a Mack Sennett's bathing beauty, ca. 1917.

Image of Mina Wylie, Dutch swimmer, Olympic silver medalist in 1912.

Olympic swimmers, 1912.

Woman in wet swimwear. Photo by Alfred Stieglitz, Lake George, Warren County, New York, 1916.

Young woman in bathing suit with small dog in front of studio backdrop of beach, ca. 1913.


  1. #7 is an odd one. Background buildings tell different story than 1900. 1960 perhaps.

  2. We edited the post. Thank you so much!

  3. loving that vintage look. For great training swimwear try slix australia

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