European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Fashion & History

EFHA Focus: Swimwear fashion show in Saltsjöbaden, 1929

European fashionfashion history

How fashion changed on the beach between 1910 and 1940

The image shows two models wearing swimsuit during a swimwear fashion show that took place in Saltsjöbaden, near Stockholm in Sweden, in 1929.

The two young girls show their attire with great confidence, looking directly in the camera, their legs and arms left bare by the swimsuits they are modeling. This confidence might seem uncommon, since at the beginning of the twentieth century, swimming still was not acceptable for women and the fashion en vogue in Europe that time – made of heavy corsets and petticoats – allowed little movement. However, WWI changed all that: while men went to war, women took up physical work and their lifestyle and fashion changed accordingly. In 1914, Vogue first published an editorial on bathing suits, but throughout the 1910s bathing suits were conservative and covered a lot of skin. They were made of fabrics like wool and silk, were full of detailing and were heavily accessorised, the parasol being a favorite. The one-piece was first introduced in 1918, but was still considered very avant-garde. It reached down to the knee and was only meant to be uncovered right before the swimmer entered the water.

In the 1920s travelling became fashionable and going to the beach became a stylish pastime. The popularity of sports also made swimming a favourite activity. The beach became a place to bo seen during glamorous holidays in Palm Beach, Deauville and the Cote d’Azur. Fashion responded with swim suits that were more tailored, slim and bare. This trend continued and was pushed further in the 1930s. Fitness was a craze, the body had to be fit, in order to show it off in back-baring, low-cut, tight one-pieces that allowed for maximum sun exposure and comfortable swimming at the same time. The two-piece, baring the midriff, also entered the stage at ths time, but was still considered very daring. It came to be widely used during the 1940s when, due to wartime fabric shortages, also accompanying garments were ditched and more ‘bare’ looks started being accepted.