In the Swim, July 1920

Butterick beach costumes or bathing suits in Delineator, July-August 1920, page 101.

I’ve been working on the year 1920, which contains some surprises for me. If you find a fringed “1920s flapper” dress with narrow shoulder straps in a thrift store, it’s probably a costume from the 1960s or later. But evening dresses held up by straps were around in 1920. (More about that in a later post.) The bathing suit pictured (above center) is part of that trend.

While we’re looking at all three suits, notice the different choices for stockings and beach shoes. Each has its own hat, too. First, Butterick 2442:

Butterick “beach or bathing suit” 2442, Delineator, 1920.

The label shows that even the editors of Delineator realized that this outfit might not be suitable for use in the water.

Those pocket-like openings would fill with water and inflict a lot of “drag” on the swimmer, even if they are open at the bottom.

This suit is truly sleeveless. The exaggerated hip width reflects the dresses worn that summer.

Strap-top bathing suit No. 2440 also has a lot of fabric in its dress and bloomers, but the shoulders and upper arms are as bare as in a modern swimsuit.

Butterick bathing-suit 2440, summer of 1920.

Button straps and a straight band form the top of this suit.

“This being the same cut as the evening bodice does away with the uneven showing of coloring if one tans and wears an evening dress.”

This is a very early 1920s’ reference to a suntan being desirable, and to the bare skin revealed in a strap-top evening dress:

Singer Anna Case, photographed for Delineator, February 1920.

The third bathing suit for women is more conservative (for sizes up to 46″ bust.)

Butterick bathing-suit 2445, Delineator, summer of 1920.

Rows of parallel stitching were often seen during the WW I years. The sleeves are also conservative, compared to the other — sleeveless — suits.

That great hat seems to be included.

Bathing suits for younger girls were also illustrated.

Bathing suits for teens and little girls also showed the bare-versus-conservative styling.

The one on the left resembles adult suit 2240, with straps, bare arms, and a belt that passes through the dress.

Styles for girls echo styles for women. 1920. No. 2438 was for “misses”/teens and also for ladies. No. 1718 was for girls 2 to 14 years old.

I have labeled this “circa” 1920, because the small girl’s suit is No. 1718, indicating that it was first issued in an earlier series. Note how the sleeves and parallel stitching echo women’s conservative bathing suit No. 2445.

Taffeta was a recommended fabric for most of these bathing suits. Don’t forget your parasol [1920] or sunscreen [2019] !

For bathing suits from other years, use the search term “in the swim” in the search box at top right.


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Bathing Suits, Children's Vintage styles, Hats, Hosiery, Hosiery, Hosiery & Stockings, Panties knickers bloomers drawers step-ins, Shoes, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

6 responses to “In the Swim, July 1920

  1. 2240 reminds me of the 1920s chemise, or one piece underwear!

    Most suits I’ve seen from this era are more similar to 2245 with the sleeves and modest neckline.

    • As I said, I am really surprised by the Butterick evening gowns I’m seeing from 1920. I’ve seen them on movie vamps, but I now have quite a collection of evening dress patterns and ads for teens 14 to 19 (and young women) with bodices that really do look like a chemise — just thin straps and a layer or two of silk! The styles of 1926 are modest by comparison. I always pictured mid-Twenties’ gowns when I heard about how shocking it was to dance with a girl who wasn’t corseted. In 1920, a waist high corset may have been worn, but breasts were untrammeled, and I’m sure the men noticed….

  2. I remember the first time I saw those strange hip drapings in an old Vogue. It looked like something designed to carry flag poles! And how bizarre to see the treatment on a bathing suit. I hope no one tried to swim in such an outfit.

    • Because my parents took me to swimming lessons (in a swimming pool) when I about five, I forgot that, before swimming pools proliferated, learning to swim was more difficult. (Being thrown in the creek by a sibling — the traditional “sink or swim” method — was not always a good experience!) Annette Kellerman was enrolled in actual swimming classes as therapy after childhood illness left her legs weakened. Sunbathing and wading (and not getting your hair wet) are still very popular around pools and at beaches 🙂

  3. Loved the article. I’ve seen many pictures of bathing suites from the 1920s, but I’ve never made the connection that they were designed similar to the evening gowns so to follow the tanning of the girl.
    That was quite clever.

  4. Pingback: Gang Roundup - August 2019 - The Old Shelter (1920s Photos)

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