We are on the eve of what is perhaps the most dreaded time of year for women everywhere.
If you’re a man reading this, you probably have no idea what I am talking about, but women will understand what I am referring to: swimsuit season.
Yes, it’s about that time of year when we must stand practically naked in front of huge, full-length mirrors and don tight, too-revealing swimsuits while we observe every imperfection on our bodies, under the all-too bright glare of fluorescent lighting.
Then we get to pay a ridiculously high price for our new hated “outfit” that in most cases, highlights all of those flaws we just spent a good hour examining. After mentally beating ourselves up for eating all of that winter comfort food, we inwardly design our new workout and diet plan and vow to hit the gym as soon as we get home from this humiliating experience.
Before getting in line to overpay, we grab a swimsuit cover-up for good measure. These were obviously invented by a woman.
These thoughts made me wonder about the history of the swimsuit, or as I called them back in the day, bathing suits. My dad also always called them bathing suits.
Of course, he also referred to flip flops as thongs. I had to explain to him later in life that when he said he was going to go put his thongs on, he should make sure nobody was in earshot or he was sure to attract attention.
Prior to the mid-1800s, swimming for recreational enjoyment wasn’t popular. Then, European physicians began suggesting people take to the water for all sorts of cures. Everything from lovesickness to various diseases and illnesses were said to be cured if you simply immersed yourself.
Suddenly, people began flocking to water everywhere, thus the need for some sort of attire became apparent. Not surprisingly, men designed women’s suits, which were basically dresses that covered up everything but a woman’s face and hands.
Underneath were stockings and bloomers, of course. The suits were so heavy that fatalities from drowning occurred.
A safer option for women was to take a refreshing dip in a “bathing machine.” These contraptions were wheeled out onto the beaches and into the water. A woman could step in, undress, put on a long sort of flannel nightgown-like dress, and an awning known as a “modesty hood” covered her head, and then she was lowered into the water.
How not fun does that sound?
There were female attendants called “dippers” whose main function, besides lowering the woman into the water, was to encourage the male on-lookers to skeedaddle. Wouldn’t want to be seen in your wet flannel nightgown, now would you?
Over time the swimsuit evolved, and although still “clothes-like,” it was made from lighter fabrics, which helped keep people from drowning. The suits for women were still in the dress-like form, all of which had long sleeves and covered up as much as possible.
It wasn’t until the 1930s when swimsuits got lighter; eventually, there was even a two-piece halter neck top and bottom suit.
In the mid-1940s, a French designer by the name of Louis Reard rolled out his version of the first bikini worn by a famous model of the day in Paris.
If you are wondering where the name comes from, that is also an interesting thing to note. The United States at the time was doing peacetime nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean in an area known as Bikini Atoll.
The media was all abuzz about this so Reard decided to give his tiny suit the name bikini for the added attention. The bikini had just the right shock value that caused it to, as they say, never go out of style.
I think they should have a new name for some swimsuits on the market. I am lobbying for the “almost bikini” to be an appropriate label. If you’re not sure what that looks like, just check out the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.