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August 2018

A brief history of swimwear…

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…and how to stand out like Ursula Andress

On the subject of UK lidos (in my blog last week), as I lay in the grounds of Ilkley Lido, surrounded by the modern day ringing in my ears or tried to swim whilst dodging the unsupervised dive-bombing children, I couldn’t help but hark back to how it must have been when it opened in the 1930s. Society was certainly very different back then, as was swimwear fashion – it was only just starting to look like the costumes and bikinis we’re familiar with today.

Pre-20th Century

Nude swimming, whilst still practised by men in rivers and lakes, first gave way to bathing wear in the 17th century, with gentrified male and female spa bathers wearing canvas outfits which billowed in the water to conceal the body’s outline.

Victorian billowy bathing dress

1858 Bathing Suit

Edwardian bathing costume and bathing machine

Edwardian bathing costume and bathing machine (Source: Wikicommons)

With the development of the railway permitting travel to spas and beaches, bathing became more popular. Nude male swimming was made illegal in 1860 and men wore drawers and waistcoats, which developed into the iconic all-in-one. Female Victorian bathing outfits were neck-to-ankle billowy dresses or tunics and bloomers to conform with ideas of decency. Bathers were wheeled right into the sea in bathing machines to further preserve their modesty.

Early 20th Century

Edwardian female costumes became a bit lighter, consisting of a tunic and shorter length bloomers. 

But swimming as a sport, rather than merely bathing in the waters, was becoming increasingly popular in the new century – and female swimmers in particular were hindered with their yards of fabric in tow.

In 1907 Australian Annette Kellerman borrowed the form-fitting style of a British male’s bathing suit and was arrested in the US for public indecency. She changed her one-piece to cover more skin, but the form-fitting style remained and became standard.

Annette Kellerman's controversial swimming costume

Annette Kellerman’s arrest-worthy swimming costume

Annette Kellerman's decent costume covering shoulders and legs

Annette’s revised costume

Modern swimwear

As freedoms for women increased, costumes shrank to a short suit, or occasionally a two-piece as long as it covered the navel. In 1928 an Australian company invented a racerback costume which allowed greater arm movement and faster swimming speeds. An employee dubbed them “Speedos”, and the company changed its name to the same.

Suitable fabrics were still a problem as rayon didn’t fare well when wet. Silk and cotton were used until the invention of nylon and latex in the 1930s. Many people continued to knit their own suit though.

By the 1930s it became acceptable for men to bathe bare-chested (again) and due to fabric shortages during the second world war, swimsuits needed to use less material. In 1946 “the world’s smallest bathing suit” was invented by a French engineer – the bikini. It was so risqué models wouldn’t wear it at the unveiling so the job was given to an exotic dancer.


Men's racerback swimming suit

Men’s racerback swimming suit

The world's first bikini

The world’s first bikini modelled by exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini

After the war, the practice of sunbathing, rather than water bathing, became more common, and so swimwear continued to become more visually arresting both in design and adornment. A more famous image than the 1946 bikini launch photos is that of Ursula Andress in the 1960s James Bond film.

Now we’re fortunate enough to be able to choose a swimming costume or bikini that says something about us (okay, and maybe one with stomach control technology and back-to-the-past skirts to cover up our wobbly bits).

But we can still all channel Ursula Andress and stand out from the crowd not only with our choice of swimwear but by accessorising it with a statement piece silk scarf from Blue Flamingo. See my blog for tips on how to wear your scarf as a cover up, and there are some examples below.

Blue scarf silk sarongs beachwear pool wear designer gifts for her gifts
hibiscus scarf worn as sarong at ilkley lido
Scarf worn as a halter neck top

The images in this blog have been sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/ 

UK lidos – lounge by the pool in style this summer at home

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If you were ever to have a staycation or come on holiday in the UK from abroad, this is the year to do it. The UK has everything you could possibly want to see or do, and this year we even have the weather. And before you say “But I like lounging by a pool – you can’t do that in Britain”, there are 127 UK lidos (outdoor pools).

UK lidos have featured in plenty of travel articles this year – as optimistically early on as April in The Independent. Putting in a regular appearance in UK “top lido” lists is Ilkley Lido in Yorkshire (pictured below), where my house is. It’s a gorgeous lido with acres of lawns to lie on whilst you gaze up at Ilkley Moor and the famous Cow and Calf rocks before having a dip to cool off. It was built in the 1930s and, whilst not as beautiful as some of the art deco UK lidos, the cafe is a testament to the era, remaining largely unchanged, and it should stay that way, as the lido, cafe and changing rooms are all Grade II listed. The Friends of Ilkley Lido say up to 4000 people pass through its doors on a sunny day.

hibiscus scarf worn as sarong at ilkley lido

Most UK lidos were built in the 1930s when people first saw the health benefits of outdoor pursuits, eagerly taking to activities such as hiking. The 1920s had seen the first women swim across the Channel (fifty years after the first man) and changing attitudes allowed women to wear suits that “changed bathing into swimming” (the advertising slogan of Jantzen swimsuits), and so swimming as a sport had taken off.

Bizarrely, many UK lidos were built by the sea and filled with salt water. The reason was that although bathing machines had ceased to be used (wheeled cabins that allowed bathers to get straight into the sea without publicly displaying their bathing attire), it was still considered indecent to be in bathing wear beyond the beach and councils insisted bathers used, and paid for, their changing cubicles or paid to erect their own tents. Bathing was also forbidden on occasions when the councils deemed the sea was too rough.

Since sea swimmers had to pay anyway, lidos became very popular as they were often cheaper and guaranteed to be open once you got to the seaside. They usually had the added attractions of fountains, slides and diving boards, and the water was constantly pumped out, cleaned, and pumped back in.

Otley Lido in the 1920s

UK lidos were, of course, closed during the Second World War, and some didn’t reopen. Attendance dropped in the 1960s due to the accessibility of foreign shores and cheap package holidays, triggering a series of closures into the 1990s, including the lido in one of my nearby towns of Otley in 1993 (pictured above).

Otley is a lovely Yorkshire market town, famed for being home to furniture designer Chippendale, and the inventor of the Wharfedale Press which revolutionised printing. The lido is situated amongst the formal gardens and amenity space of Wharfemeadows Park along the picturesque banks of the River Wharfe. It’s now looking very sorry for itself, but the Friends of Otley Lido have plans not just to restore it, but to make it better than before with added facilities for the community. They held an Open Day last weekend to show their vision to the public, hear people’s memories of the old facilities, and obtain feedback on the new plans.

Fortunately many other historic UK lidos have already been saved or restored. Tinside Lido in Plymouth has been listed and restored, as has Saltdean Lido (pictured below) which was going to make way for a block of flats. Cornwall’s Jubilee Pool in Penzance, built in an unusual triangular shape to withstand the wind and waves, was also restored, saved from making way for a fun park.

Saltdean Li

Other UK lidos have been saved from closure by being maintained and run by volunteers such as Portishead, Hilsea and Stonehaven pools.

Why not support your nearest community’s effort and enjoy our Great British heritage and try one of the UK’s outdoor pools this summer?

How about the UK lido which is farthest North in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire? Or the UK’s highest heated outdoor pool in Shap, Cumbria at over 1,000ft above sea level? Or the UK’s deepest pool, Hilsea Pool in Portsmouth, Hampshire where Britain’s swimming team trained for the 1936 Berlin Olympics?

And don’t forget to take your Blue Flamingo scarf to protect you from the sun or sea breezes. My last blog looked at some inventive ways you can use my pure silk scarves as a cover-up. Here are some of my designs that remind me of a pool’s beautiful blue waters and the gold ribbons of the sun’s reflection.

Blue flamingo design unusual gift different gift
flamingos scarf trendy gifts fashionable gifts birdlovers presents
Silk scarf sea life
silk scarf blue marine gift for sailors

Do you have any memories or experiences to share about UK lidos? Please comment as I’d love to know!