When the sun’s out and the mercury’s rising, that can only mean one thing: summer is officially here. As illustrated by the images above, the beach has been the quintessential summer destination since the turn of the 20th century. But from the fashions to the activities, so much has changed since then.
Beach vacations started as early as the late 1800s after railroads became a viable source of transportation, according to Victoriana Magazine. Swimwear consisted of fully covered gowns and bloomers that revealed very little. Although the sun’s harmful UV rays were an unknown danger at the time, this conservative beachwear would have provided a good deal of protection.
By the early 1900s, beach resorts were becoming a popular destination. But water activities such as swimming and diving were a burden due to the bulky Victorian-style swimsuits, especially for the women, the magazine reports. Thus, by the 1920s, fitted swimwear that modestly conformed to the body became a part of beach fashion. Susan Sessions Rugh, an American history professor at Brigham Young University, points out that as the years passed, swimsuits became smaller and smaller.
“Earlier in the century, the sexes were often segregated on the beach and women were chaperoned, even though today their swimsuits look ridiculously modest,” Rugh said in an interview with Weather.com. “Swimsuits shrunk over the years as new stretch fabrics and manufacturing methods allowed a more form-fitting garment.”
Rationing of fabric during the war created women’s clothing in America that was somewhat more revealing, possibly inspiring the production of two-piece bathing suits, which exposed women’s midriffs.
After the war, in 1946, the bikini was introduced and a trip to the beach hasn’t been the same.
French engineer Louis Reard created the first modern bikini, promoting it as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit,” according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal newspaper. Originally banned in Italy and Spain as it was considered indecent, the bikini didn’t become a popular fashion trend till 1956 after French actress Brigitte Bardot was seen wearing one, reports AmericanHeritage.com.
“By the sixties, influenced in part by the sexual revolution, the bikini became the preferred suit for the young and adventurous,” Rugh explained.
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Today, bikinis are a common sight on the beach. But one thing’s for certain, even as fashions come and go, the beach will always be a perfect destination for a summer vacation.
“It’s a great getaway from our daily cares and work,” Rugh said. “Watching the waves and listening to the birds can be soothing. It is also educational for children, who pick up shells and drag seaweed out of the surf.”
The collection above features a vintage look of vacationers and beachgoers from around the world from the early 1900s to the end of the 1970s. For more information on the evolution of the family vacation, read Rugh’s book, “Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations.”
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