Sunday, February 28, 2021

Swimming Upstream, Part 2 - Onesies

Part two of our swimmers' double feature shows a variety of men in that early 20th C. 
bathing fashion, onesies.  They probably just called them "men's bathing suits" back then, 
and some even had "modesty" skirts or flaps to cover bulges.  We won't be looking at those.
The men in suits seem out of place in our swim or water polo team opener.



  1. I expect the suited and booted gents are the club president and coach. Any excuse to get into the changing rooms. It was customary for them to be photographed with their protégés. From the suit styles and the cut of the full bathing suit - the "box cut" legs - I would date this to the late 1920s. Outside the conservative world of competitive sports - athletes had to comply with sometimes quite draconian codes of personal morality and conduct to earn a place on a team - the full male bathing suit was already undergoing a very rapid evolution as a fashion statement, with cut-away back and sides and the top half was getting far briefer. Some life guards sported quite risqué versions. Trunks - known as "racers" before the invention of the "Speedo" in Australia in the early 1960s - came into public acceptability in the early 1930s. Male bathing suits were usually made of boiled wool and the fibers clogging up the filters in public pools was the reason for male nude swimming.

    1. I knew I could count on you for some good information on the garb in this series. I had heard about fabric fibers and pool filters, but I didn't know it was boiled wool. Thanks for commenting!

    2. Thank you. By the way, your usage of the term "bathing suit" was still probably current in American English at that time. In England, it would still have been used if one was indeed "bathing" or "swimming" as the sport was rapidly being called. (Public "baths" in Britain had notices directing you "to the swim".) Otherwise, it was referred to as a "leotard" named after Jules Léotard (1838–1870), a French acrobat who developed the art of the trapeze. Acrobatics developed into the discipline we call gymnastics. He popularized the one-piece gym wear that bears his name and inspired the 1867 song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" sung by George Leybourne. He was also one of the cycling pioneers in France. His one-piece in fact left nothing to the imagination, which is how the French like it.

      As more women entered competitive sports - and indulged in Yoga - in the post-war world, the leotard came to be identified as a female garment, and slowly but surely, men started to refer to a "singlet", an import from American English. A "singlet" was originally a brief running vest in both American and British English, replacing the long-sleeved running shirts worn in late-Victorian times and was first normalized in the 1924 Paris Olympics and worn on top of increasingly briefer - and eventually split-leg - running shorts.

      With the introduction of polyester and polyamide for sportswear in the late 1970s - when the domestic washing machine was by then ubiquitous - the shorts were again attached to the singlet, and the whole garment took on that name.

    3. I think these singlets are a lot sexier than what guys wear today: long shapeless trousers down to their calves. A crime!

  2. I don't think I'm familiar with that trend. "Jammers" are now the latest thing for competitive swimming. I think they look awful - and I hear that they are very uncomfortable as well. There's only so much compression a man can take where it counts and I wonder if the term comes from jamming the family jewels into a space too small for them. You may like to know that in a fit of patriotism, the British Olympic Committee appointed Stella McCartney, daughter of ex-Beatle Sir Paul - to design the British Swimming Team's costumes for the London Olympics. Poster boy and diver Tom Daley had to go back to her with alterations because he kept popping out of his trunks - one of the hazards of having a woman design men's sportswear.