The sun is out and the surf is up. But none of that is any good if you don’t have a fabulous swimsuit to go frolicking in.
It's time to take a peek at the collection of togs held at the Waikato Museum.
Togs have been around since, well, a long time ago. And while 100 odd years ago they were covering ankles and wrists, today you’re lucky if they cover anything at all. Regardless of how much they’re covering though, togs have almost always been the most revealing, but socially acceptable article of clothing to wear in public, and remain one of those titillating garments whose dual purpose is to both conceal and reveal.
Early examples of swimwear from the collection include the horribly itchy black woollen suits of the 1920s. Wool had been deemed a suitable fabric, as it remained appropriately opaque when wet. Opaque it might have been, but surely the saggy wet woollens weren’t the most liberating of swimwear. Yet at the time, these togs represented some radical changes.
Swimsuits of the 1920s left women’s legs bare for the first time. Gone were the long, concealing outfits in favour of lower necklines, tighter waists, and shorter skirts. This paved the way for changes in the 1930s, which would include the baring of the back for the first time.
Meanwhile, people worried about tight fitting swimsuits which no longer hid men’s bodies from view. Two-piece suits were still the norm in the 1920s, but by the 1930s, the struggle was on for men to discard the top, and ‘no shirts’ was a hot magazine topic. Topless men were reportedly banned on New Jersey beaches in 1936, (“we don’t want gorillas on our beaches”), but a concession was made in the 1937 that trunks could be worn as long as the navel was not exposed.
The Museum has a fine maroon example of a pair of men’s bottoms made by Speedo. The waist is certainly high enough to cover any outrageous belly buttons, and a modesty panel at the front ensures nobody would be seeing anything they shouldn’t. The snazzy Speedos were gifted to the Museum in 1987 by Mr and Mrs Bishop, and remain in excellent condition.
By the 1950s, togs were enjoying the benefits of modern materials. The Museum has some great pieces tucked away; a pink strapless number with a sweetheart neckline stands out. Purchased for the permanent collection in 1994, the suit features an elasticised back, pink panelling on the chest and waist (with an internal bra), and white scalloped and piped top & bottom. The white cotton fabric on the bottom has tiny pink snails and elasticised legs, and makes the suit the picture of fifties perfection.
Another highlight is a cutesy bikini with a matching jacket. The suit is Skylar brand of England, and was purchased along with the pink number. The bottoms feature a cute frill and the top has under wire cups.
The Museum has only a couple of ‘modern’ examples of swimwear - the most disgusting of which is a lime green one-piece suit made by Canterbury in the 1970s. It has a front (stomach) panel but no back panel - only pants which are elasticised at the back, and sewn onto the front panel at crotch, and then sewn and attached at each side by large gold plated metal circular clasps. The swimsuit is truly heinous but no doubt a great representation of its time.
Like underwear, swimwear has the fantastic ability to reflect social attitudes and changes. So as you shimmy into your boardies or bikini, give some thanks they’re not made of wool.