On the tracks of bathing culture - from the chaste bathing shirt to the tight Fio Dental
The heyday of European bathing culture began in the apparently dirty Middle Ages, when public bathrooms were established as a result of the formation of the medieval town system in the 12th century. Initially these served only to cleanse the body, but soon developed into humid and cheerful places of entertainment where people ate, drank and played music. When bathing in the nude, a towel was used, which was fastened with strings and covered only the most necessary parts of the body. As places of immorality, the bathrooms of the church were soon a thorn in the side, which is why the bathing areas were divided according to sex and bathing rules were established.
After 1500 the bathing industry came into disrepute due to the spread of new diseases such as plague, syphilis and cholera. For fear of infection, bathing with several people was avoided and almost all bathing establishments were closed over time. Instead, partial washes of face, hands, feet and hair were carried out. Until the 18th century, the nobility covered up unpleasant odours almost exclusively with powder and perfume. The general population also went swimming in lakes and rivers, separated according to sex. They usually wore simple bathing shirts that covered their ankles and wrists.
In the course of the Enlightenment, the ideas of health and hygiene were also reformed. Doctors recommended not only bathing in warm springs, but also in open waters. Towards the end of the 18th century the water lost its terror and the first seaside resorts opened in England. Women wore long flannel shirts for bathing, usually with heavy weights sewn into them to prevent the fabric from rising to the surface. Men, however, were allowed to enjoy the healing effects of the water naked. It was also very important to separate the sexes in order to preserve morality. With the help of a bathing cart that was pulled into the water, women could unobservedly get rid of their day clothes and thus discreetly enter the sea.
In the 19th century, cures at the sea were increasingly recommended, as health-promoting qualities were assumed to be found in the saltwater moved by the wild. Bathing women wore multi-piece costumes made of wool, linen or silk for moral reasons. These additionally consisted of a bonnet, hat, long-sleeved blouse, corset, trousers laced over the ankles as well as stockings and shoes. Swimming in a bathing costume sometimes cost many women their lives, as it severely restricted their freedom of movement and pulled the wearer under the surface of the water due to her heavy weight. Towards the end of the 19th century, the sleeves and trouser legs became shorter. Sailor's collars and anchor motifs began to become modern after 1880.
After the swimming sport had already become very popular for men at the end of the 19th century, competitive swimming for women only became known to the public after 1900. Due to prescribed customs, conservative morals and strict laws, female swimmers were forced to cover their bodies with several layers of fabric during competitions, which considerably restricted their freedom of movement. Violations of dress codes could certainly be severely punished: When Australian swimmer Annette Kellermann was training on a beach in Boston in 1907, wearing a self-designed short swimsuit, she was arrested by a police officer.
As the pleasure aspect of bathing gradually outweighed the original health-promoting aspects, swimwear also developed in a new direction in the wild 1920s. Bathing together by men and women became increasingly the norm in isolated places. Instead of heavy materials like serge or flannel, both sexes now wore swimwear made of light cotton jersey. In the course of time, the trouser legs became shorter and the skirt soon disappeared completely. The swimsuits were thus almost unisex, although the women also wore swim caps.
In the 1930s, a new trend emerged that was also to shape swimwear: sunbathing. With the disappearance of the pale ideal of beauty, which for centuries had been regarded as an indispensable attribute of nobility, swimwear and beachwear also changed. Scarce two-pieces came into fashion, which resembled the lingerie of the time in their appearance, with the navel completely covered. While in the rest of Europe, two-piece suits were established on beaches, lakes and in swimming pools, the development of swimwear in National Socialist Germany was hampered by, among other things, the gusset decree of 1932, which prescribed a moral covering of the body and the attachment of a piece of fabric ("gusset") in the crotch of the swimwear.
During the Second World War, swimwear production stagnated in many European countries, as many companies focused on the production of military clothing. After the war, nylon established itself as the most popular material due to its light weight and short drying time, but silk, viscose and cotton were also popular.
On 5 July 1946, just a few days after the devastating US atomic bomb tests in Bikini Atoll, a "bomb" of a very different kind detonated in the middle of France. For this day the French swimwear designer Louis Réard had called a pageant in the famous Parisian swimming pool Molitor. Here he presented the world's smallest two-piece swimsuit to date, the "Bikini". Symbolically, the bikini - at the time an absolute provocation to society - was to be associated with the explosive power of nuclear testing. And no other name would have been more fitting, because Réard's "invention" was a bombshell. The bikini, which was first presented to the public by Micheline Bernardini - a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris - had sufficient fabric only in the most intimate parts. The news of such a scandalous piece of clothing went around the world like wildfire in the days that followed. At that time, the nakedness of the navel was still considered to be highly immoral, which is why it took almost 16 years before the provocative two-piece became popular among the general population. Until then, the bikini was banned at many seaside resorts around the world.
The unswerving Louis Réard is considered the inventor of the bikini and the few pieces of swimwear he still owns today are the most valuable historical witnesses of his time. 16 of them are known. The BikiniARTmuseum has an incredible twelve originals. Two are in the extended family possession and two are exhibited in the Parisian museums, the Louvre and the "Musée Galliera". Ghislaine Rayer, the world's leading expert on lingerie and swimwear, and author of the most important book on swimwear, "Bikini, la légende", explains: "Louis Réard, the creator of the bikini, was incredibly visionary and far ahead of his time. His swimsuits were worn by the great international stars of the time and by women of Parisian high society. Since they were mainly made to measure, only a few have survived. The BAM is the only museum in the world that displays several of Louis Réard's exclusive works".
There is only one surviving one-off production of Louis Réard: "The Golden Réard". The others are serial productions. The Golden Réard was created especially for the winner of the "Miss Réard" competition. Experts estimate the year of manufacture to be 1948. The Golden Réard is an aesthetic masterpiece of swimwear. It is timeless, the colour and cut are unique. This bikini is beautiful even by today's standards. The Golden Réard is the historically most valuable bikini in the world.
With the reduction in air travel in the 1960s, many people from cooler countries spent their holidays in warmer climates. Swimwear in bright colours reflected the desire for sun, beach and sea. In the course of the decade, the provocative two-piece was now able to establish itself among the general population and was celebrated worldwide as a symbol of emancipation. In 1964 Rudi Gernreich introduced the monokini, which exposed the wearer's breasts. However, the presentation of the provocative garment caused a further scandal and the revealing swimsuit was initially unsuccessful.
Psychedelic patterns were particularly characteristic of the creative swimwear of the 1970s. Fabrics printed with flower patterns were extremely popular in the "Flower Power" era. At the same time, a tendency towards ever scarcer fabrics became apparent. Exciting swimwear from Rio de Janeiro spread around the world like wildfire. The sexual revolution sometimes found its expression in the invention of the thong. Eventually, the back part of the bottom was replaced by a string and the Fio Dental was born. It is considered the culmination of the shortage of fabric in swimwear.
Typical for the cut of the swimsuits of the 1980s were the hip-high, athletic-looking leg cutouts. Bikinis were often camouflaged as two-piece sports jerseys, which, with equally high leg openings and figure-shaping materials such as lycra or elastane, conveyed the overall impression of long-leggedness. With the beginning of the 1980s, topless bathing also came into fashion. Parallel to this liberal development, old-fashioned swimsuit models with peplum and frills were used more and more.
The swimwear of the 1990s was more innovative than ever before. Bikinis and swimsuits were worn in all imaginable colours, patterns and shapes. Creative two-piece grass or cake tins met bikinis set with diamonds and gold. The line between swimwear and everyday wear increasingly disappeared as bikini tops and bras were now worn with jeans or over a T-shirt. At the end of the 1990s, bikini bottoms became scarcer than ever before: the mons veneris were barely covered and the leg neckline often reached to the hips.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the belly was again the focus of swimwear designs. Refined horizontal and vertical stripes combined bikini tops and bottoms and unconventional strap creations structured neck and hips. Traditional materials like wool were reinterpreted and combined with synthetic fabrics. The classic bikini triangles were also replaced by striking squares for the first time. Curvy stars and starlets such as the American singer Beyoncé Knowles brought the hourglass figure back into fashion, which is why female curves were once again skilfully staged in swimwear.
The cultural diversity is also reflected in swimwear today. For many Muslim women the burkini has established itself, a kind of full-body swimsuit worn with a burka. This enables women who for religious reasons keep their body covered in everyday life to work as lifeguards, among other things. There are no limits to the swimwear of the present day: what is worn is what you like. Even more than 70 years after its birth, the bikini is still in the spotlight in all possible cuts, shapes and designs and is celebrated as a feminist statement by influencers like Emily Ratajkowski. The focus of the 21st century is on a positive perception of the body and the detachment from the idea that only figure types that correspond to the ideal of beauty can be considered attractive.