Swimming costumes and history

When, where and how people swam or bathed – and what they wore – has changed over time, and here is one fascinating account from Wikipedia in a history of swimwear.

A fascinating book on swimming history, Hung out to Dry, traces how changes in attitudes to what people wear went along with pressures to stop people swimming in rivers and other outdoor places.

I have read in another book – at the moment I can’t find the reference so I’ll have to read all my swimming books! – that bringing in swimming costumes (rather than swimming naked as people did before, together with other social change) allowed women to swim more freely.

It might have been in this equally fascinating book looking at swimming history, especially involving women, focused on the Thames,  Caitlin Davies, Downstream.

More recently the Burkini has allowed Muslim women to participate, though not without controversy.

male model wearing long one piece costume
Knitting pattern for man’s bathing costume

Website article about swimwear, mainly for women

Website article about swimwear, mainly for men (don’t miss the floating trunks at the end!)

Caitlin Davies’s book includes one story of a man who went swimming, couldn’t get out on the same bank, and had to walk a mile through London naked until he could reach a friends house and borrow some clothes.

female model wearing knee length costume
Art Deco swimwear, from exhibition at Sainsbury Centre

Now available in a video, Culture in Quarantine: Exhibition Tours: 2. Art Deco By The Sea – The Exhibition

Roger Deakin’s Waterlog (on Amazon) – considered to be responsible for the rising popularity of wild swimming – also has much swimming history, as well as stories about his own swimming journey around Britain swimming from his moat in Suffolk, through Breckland and East Anglia and beyond.

After one long swim he says “I scrambled out with the help of the reeds but still managed to daub myself in a woad of black silt, so I had to face the walk back along the bank in my swimming trunks, looking like some neolithic erstwhile inhabitant. … the couple on board [a passing boat]… just waved a cheery hello as though quite accustomed to meeting half naked tribesman at large in the Fens.

Those swimming trunks (which you can see on Pinterest) are part of an archive collection of his writings held in Norwich.

Though not part of the project, this article might be of interest while events are postponed – read more on the OS Brecks pages of this website. The Tales from the River project will look at the history of outdoor swimming in the area. It is part of The Brecks Fen Edge & Rivers Landscape Partnership Scheme (BFER), supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund).

We are asking if you have any Outdoor Swimming photos or stories to share, including on swimwear, attitudes, experiences (good or bad).