Beachgoers once made a splash in wool leggings – Orlando Sentinel
It’s been 76 years this month since the bikini was born in 1946, but less than 40 years ago such a getup on central Florida beaches seemed as unlikely as rocket ships rocketing into space from Cape Canaveral.
Bathing suits began in the United States in the mid-1800s when railroads made beach resorts more accessible to vacationers. According to the customs of the time, swimming was a more acceptable pastime for men than for women, but by the early 20th century that had changed significantly.
Pictures of people at Daytona Beach in 1909 show smiling sunbathers covered from ankle to elbow. Women who’ve braved the surf don dark leggings, shoes and hats with their impressive costumes, designed more for getting wet than for any real, athletic swim.
Just two years earlier, in 1907, the first woman to swim the English Channel, Australian athlete Annette Kellerman, was arrested in Boston for wearing a one-piece suit that looked a little like a humble yoga practitioner today.
By 1913, the Portland Knitting Co. (later Jantzen Swimwear) was producing a ribbed wool suit for the Portland Rowing Club that showed a development towards the modern bathing suit. While it performed well in the cool Oregon weather, it weighed 8 pounds when wet and was likely prone to slipping.
The company soon made improvements, adding women’s suits and hiring artist husbands Frank and Florenz Clark to design an advertising campaign. Inspired by the divers training in Portland for the 1920 Olympics, the Clarks invented a future icon in advertising and Daytona Beach: the Red Diving Girl.
Dressed in a cheeky suit resembling a long tank top, the Diving Girl appeared on billboards and advertisements and became something of a craze. In 1922, Jantzen printed 10,000 Red Diving Girl stickers that were distributed in retail displays. People grabbed them to put on their car windshields.
The Diving Girl was still enjoying success for Jantzen in 1959, when a Los Angeles mannequin company converted the image, now wearing a strapless one-piece suit, into several fiberglass versions used on signs. In the 1960s, people came to Daytona Beach, where at 8 N. Ocean Ave. stayed on Stamie’s Smart Beachwear until the store closed in 2018.
Then, according to news reports, the statue suddenly disappeared, heading west. Daytona Beach wanted her back, and later that year the Red Diving Girl is rising in a new location at the One Daytona complex on International Speedway Boulevard thanks to a public effort.
The Red Diving Girl wears a swimming cap that was once a must-have swimsuit to look stylish on the beach. In 1909, bathers at Daytona Beach were pictured wearing puffy headgear resembling shower caps.
By the 1920s, such hats had given way to latex rubber caps with “aviator” chin straps, at least for actual swimmers. When rubber became scarce during World War II (because it was needed for war supplies), rubber swim caps disappeared, but they revived in the 1950s with quirky, fashion-led designs.
Crafted into flower petals, futuristic spikes and other designs, these pastel colored latex caps framed the face more like a stylish bell than a piece of athlete’s gear. When a swimmer dove underwater, this type of cap didn’t do much to keep moisture out, but keeping her head above the water could protect her curly tresses from a targeted splash.
Regulations at many swimming pools in the 1950s required caps for women, apparently to keep longer hair and hairspray out of the water. But the popularity of longer hairstyles for men in the late 1960s and ’70s — and the arrival of more natural hairstyles for women — gradually inspired many pools to drop their cap-only requirements, and the glamorous flower-power swim cap floated in the past.
The bikini is still with us. Apparently, fourth-century Roman artwork suggests that some female athletes wore a scanty two-piece athletic costume, but the modern bikini dates to July 1946, when French engineer Louis Réard unveiled his shocking swimsuit design at a popular Parisian swimming pool.
Réard, an engineer who ran his mother’s Paris lingerie business at the time, named what he described as “the world’s smallest swimsuit” after the site of a recent US nuclear test off Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean took place.
The idea was that the suit’s shockwaves would be even more powerful than a nuclear explosion. Around the same time, fashion designer Jacques Heim also introduced a similar swimsuit called the Atom.