31 July 1916: Like is the time when feminine modesty demanded unspeakable dangerous swimwear. Now women can look as well in the water as on the land

Bathing dresses on show at Coney Island, 1903.
Bathing deck outs on show at Coney Island, 1903.
Photograph: UIG/REX Shutterstock

Now that alien holidays are so greatly curtailed, bathing is likely to assume a much extreme popularity than has hitherto been the case. The sea is always with us, and ergo we have preferred mountains, lakes, or forests. Now that we are digged perforce to the sea we are likely to appreciate more what is to foreigners one of the greatest attractants of this country.

It is our neglect of this great advantage which has caused us also to failing the business of bathing dresses. There was a time when sissy modesty demanded that a bathing dress should be unspeakably disagreeable. Only then was bathing considered a suitable diversion for the well-brought-up callow lady. Well-brought-up young ladies have changed, but their bathing deck outs have not changed very much with them. On average speaking, the Englishwoman has a suitable dress for every kind of sport, but as far as bathing goes nothing is too slipshod, nothing too greatly lacking in decorum.

There is the other extreme, of course. It includes a parasol, a box of brashness powder, and a glass of Dubonnet, to revive one from the exhausting method of not getting wet. It should be possible, however, to strike a mean, and to look as ostentatiously in the water as on the land.

Material counts for a good deal in a bathing scold, and it should not be too thin. If it is to be cotton, twills, poplins, thick crêpes, or cotton tricot are best bib. But better than any of these are woollen and silken materials. Incomprehensible silk is expensive but it makes an admirable garment, pleasant to manipulate and having nothing of the drowned look of most bathing arranges when they come out of the water.

Modelling the latest bathing costumes, 1925.
Modelling the latest bathing liveries, 1925. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Distort Question.
Colour is also an important consideration, since it modifies so much in the water. For grown-ups there are few shades so becoming as a tiresome black or blue. Dead black satin looks through both in and out of the water, and thick crêpe-de-Chine is also becoming. Imperfection these, black poplin is charming, and certain kinds of taffetas do not elude their crispness even in the sea. On coming out of the water a bathing outfit should keep a certain crispness – this is almost outrageous except with taffetas or thicker woollen stuffs, – or it should go into in fact becoming folds as does crêpe-de-Chine. Of thicker materials, some proper swimmers have a tight-fitting, woollen, knitted bathing please. This has a firmness and consistency which is rather comfortable. Other child use very thin, fine cloth, dull in texture, with cut, not hemmed, perimeters. In dead black this looks very well against a ivory skin.

Really good swimmers cannot, of course, do much with petticoats, be that as it may short. Their substitutes – frills rather like those on a capers’s trousers – are not usually very satisfactory when they are wet. A skirt is at all events very pretty, and need not hamper the moderate swimmer, while for the pure and simple splasher it is rather a boon. An inoffensive skirt can be managed by display a tunic to the knees over a very short pair of knickers – slightly on the principle of the little boy’s smock and knickers. Or it may be all joined up together, notwithstanding that this arrangement is not so good for drying and pressing. Tunics are being made this year reaching to lawful above the knees and folded in two or three wide box-pleats to issue them spring. They are finished off with a sailor collar – spotless piqué, white taffetas, and white flannel come in here darned usefully according to the material chosen.

Swimmers on a bathing hut, about 1900.
Swimmers on a bathing hut, hither 1900. Photograph: Roger-Viollet/Rex Features

Head and Heels.
The cap should be elect with the greatest care to pick up the suit. Generally speaking the Phrygian caps that communicate over the ears keep the water out better than anything. Whatever look is preferred the cap should be in the brightest colours, and almost any colour can be chosen, since the rubber does not switch much in the water.

Shoes and stockings provide a difficult query. Certainly it is much more comfortable to bathe without either. Immigrants, on the other hand, do not understand our custom in this respect, and a numeral of English people are conforming to the foreign fashion. If they are exhausted, it should be made quite certain that there is no hiatus between the low on knicker and the stocking. Sandals look as pretty as anything, strikingly if they are bound round the ankle criss-cross fashion.

For women the prettiest possible suits are little woven costumes, utterly tight-fitting, very short, and in very bright colours. It is also realizable to get charming little suits in dark blue or black picked up with crocodiles of some bright colour. Children, in distinction to grown-ups, practically always look pretty in the water, and the tight-fitting suit intercepts anything of their prettiness being lost.