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Summer in Saskatchewan, everyone flocking to beaches to swim, sun tan or simply to enjoy the…well, the scenery.  Beach wear, by the way, has an interesting, in fact quite an amazing history.  I just have room here to give you three episodes of the story, namely: 

  1. Prudery on Wheels
  2. Evolution of the Swimsuit
  3. The Atom or the Bikini?

The notion of what’s acceptable on the beach has undergone some very drastic changes over the years. Let’s start with the bathing machine--an invention for the purpose of hiding the female body in the Age of Prudery.

This was a small four-wheel wagon topped with a cabin that had walls, a roof and a back door. It was backed into the water by a horse. Inside the cabin the lady changed into her bathing clothes. When the wagon was far enough away from the shore for sufficient privacy she stepped, or was helped, into the water. Where she could splash around under the watch of a friend or servant (lower class folk couldn’t afford such luxury) but was unlikely to swim. Her body, however, was well hidden from the public.

Bathing machines were used in  Britain and other English-speaking countries--including Canada--and several European nations.  In some places men used them as well, but that was uncommon. They were first used in the 1700s and existed well into the 1800s.

By the beginning of the 20th century  bathing machines had virtually disappeared. Women gradually found the courage to appear on beaches in swimsuits. The main difference between a lady’s swimsuit and street clothes in that era was that her street clothes didn’t get wet. Not much skin visible on either outfit. Men, according to Wikipedia, generally swam nude until some time in the 19th century.

Little by little as time went on, ladies’ swimsuits began to shrink. Not because of the fabric, but because  the  excessive prudery of the Victorian era slowly weakened as the early 20th century progressed. (Men by this time wore swim suits, but often with a vest-like top.) By the 1920s bare legs  had become common on the beaches of North America, though there were still voices that considered that to be rather wicked.

In the 1930s and  ‘40s more and more of the fabric vanished and two-piece swim suits appeared. I was too young in those decades to see much of that personally. Had to do some heavy research in books and magazines instead. In the next decade--the 1950s--however, my studies on the subject could become more direct. And more fun.

Because that’s when the bikini showed up. (It was created in 1946 but its popularity spread in the 1950s.) And the name “bikini” almost didn’t show up with it. According to Readers’ Digest two French  designers were in the process of creating very brief two-piece swimsuits. One wanted to call it the Atome, “atom“-- due to the small size I suppose. The other wanted to use the name of the Bikini Atoll, where the first atomic bomb test occurred. And “bikini “ won out. Perhaps because  it was an explosive design?  Many considered it far too shocking and some countries--including the U.S.--wouldn’t allow it on their beaches at first..

70 years later the bikini still rules. The only significant change since 1950 is that the remaining coverage becomes ever smaller. Too much smaller is the opinion of many.  It must be admitted however that the newest ones are very practical. Where a lady once needed a bag or pack to carry her swimsuit a letter envelope is all that’s needed  now.

By the time you read this--some time in August--I hope Mr. Covid will be fully defeated. And if everyone would do their duty that would-be certain. As I write--mid-July--I learn that  97% of new cases last weekend in the U.S. were on unvaccinated people. And  where  there are higher vaccination rates the rates of Covid are lower, regardless of what the  irresponsible antivax sources say.

To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8657 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

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