This month marks 76 years since the birth of the bikini in 1946, but less than 40 years earlier, such an outfit seemed as unlikely on the beaches of central Florida as rockets blasting into space from Cape Canaveral.
Bathing suits made their debut in the United States in the mid-1800s, when railroads made beach resorts more accessible to vacationers. According to the mores of the time, swimming was a more acceptable pastime for men than for women, but by the early 1900s that had changed significantly.
Footage of people at Daytona Beach in 1909 shows smiling bathers covered from ankle to elbow. Women who have braved the surf wear dark leggings, shoes and hats with their formidable suits, designed more for getting wet than for real sport swimming.
Just two years earlier, in 1907, the first woman to swim across the English Channel, Australian athlete Annette Kellerman, was arrested in Boston for wearing a one-piece suit that looked a bit like a modest yoga practitioner might wear today.
In 1913 the Portland Knitting Co. (later Jantzen Swimwear) produced a ribbed wool suit for the Portland Rowing Club which showed an evolution towards modern swimwear. Although well suited to cool Oregon weather, it weighed 8 pounds when wet and probably tended to slip.
Soon the company was making improvements, adding costumes for women, and hiring husband-and-wife artists Frank and Florenz Clark to create an advertising campaign. Inspired by female divers training in Portland for the 1920 Olympics, the Clarks envisioned a future icon in advertising and Daytona Beach: the Red Diving Girl.
Dressed in a sassy costume resembling a long tank top, the Diving Girl appeared on billboards and advertisements and became a craze. In 1922, Jantzen printed 10,000 Red Diving Girl stickers which were distributed in store displays. People grabbed them to stick them on the windshields of their cars.
The Diving Girl was still going strong for Jantzen in 1959, when a Los Angeles modeling firm transformed the image, now wearing a strapless one-piece, into several fiberglass versions for use on panels. In the 1960s, one came to Daytona Beach, where he remained at 8 N. Ocean Ave., above Stamie’s Smart Beachwear, until the store closed in 2018.
Then, suddenly, the statue disappeared, heading west, according to dispatches. Daytona Beach wanted her back, and later that year, through a public effort, the Red Diving Girl rode to a new location at the One Daytona complex on International Speedway Boulevard.
The Red Diving Girl wears a swimming cap, once considered essential as a bathing dress for shaping a fashionable figure on the beach. In 1909, in Daytona Beach, bathers wore puffy head coverings resembling shower caps.
By the 1920s, these hats had given way to latex rubber beanies with “aviator” chin straps, at least for people who actually swam. When rubber became scarce during World War II (because it was needed for war material), rubber bathing caps disappeared, but they rebounded in the 1950s with whimsical patterns shaped by fashion .
Made of pastel-colored latex fashioned into flower petals, futuristic spikes, and other designs, these caps framed the face more like an elegant bell than part of an athlete’s gear. If a swimmer was diving underwater, this kind of cap didn’t do much to keep moisture out, but if she kept her head above water, it could protect her curly locks from a splash. well directed.
Many 1950s swimming pool regulations at the time called for caps for women, apparently in an effort to keep longer hair and hairspray out of the water. But the popularity of longer hairstyles for men in the late 1960s and 1970s—and the advent of more natural hairstyles for women—gradually inspired many pools to drop their cap-only requirements, and the swim cap glamorous and flowery floated in the past.
The bikini is still with us. Apparently 4th-century Roman artwork suggests that some female athletes wore skimpy two-piece sports suits, but the modern bikini dates back to July 1946, when French engineer Louis Réard introduced his swimsuit design. shocking in a popular Parisian swimming pool.
An engineer who at the time ran his mother’s Parisian lingerie boutique, Réard named what he advertised as “the world’s smallest swimsuit” after the site of a recent US nuclear test off the coast. of Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
The idea was that the shock waves from the suit would be even greater than a nuclear explosion. Around the same time, fashion designer Jacques Heim also introduced a similar swimsuit, called the “atom”.
Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at [email protected], FindJoyinFlorida.comor by old-fashioned letter to Florida Flashback, c/o Dickinson, PO Box 1942, Orlando, FL 32802.