100 Years At The Beach

100 Years At The Beach

A new exhibition explores the history of fashionable swimwear

If it’s not warm enough to hit the beach this weekend, then an exhibition exploring over 100 years of swimwear might just be the next best thing. That’s why we’re delighted that Riviera Style, at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, is celebrating seaside fashion since 1900 – from Edwardian bathing dresses to skimpy Lycra bikinis.

The show focuses on summer fashion at its most fun and flamboyant: bright playsuits, Breton T-shirts and even Nigella Lawson’s head-to-toe ‘burkini’. It also sheds light on the technology behind beachwear – and how the fashion industry developed clever fabrics that always retain their fit, whether they’re seawater-wet or drying in the sun.

Our approach to swimwear has changed over the last century, explains curator Dr Christine Boydell: “Days at the beach began as a health cure, when sea air was prescribed by doctors in the Victorian era.  Before the 1920s, swimming costumes were for bathing; the trend for sunbathing that emerged led to a radical change in the design of swimsuits and beach attire. By the 1930s, men’s and women’s suits had cut-away sections, and later two-piece models became popular – though many 1940s and 50s swimsuits still had modesty skirts.”

You won’t see many modesty skirts on the beach this summer, but there’s still plenty of time to see the history of swimwear brought to life. The exhibition runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 29 August.

ftmlondon.org/Riviera Style Resort & Swimwear since 1900

  • Words: Hattie Crisell

  • Photography: Leicestershire County Council / Kirstin Sinclair / King & McGaw / © NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society Picture Library