Tag Archives: fashion

Swimwear fashions

First released in June 1960, at a time when bikinis were still considered as risqué, the song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini is credited with helping to make the garment more socially acceptable.

The modern bikini was launched in 1946, when two French designers produced two-piece swimsuit ranges, although illustrations can be found in a number of locations showing women from Roman times wearing bikini-like garments for athletic competitions. An increasing number of glamour shots of actresses in bikinis in the 1950s did much to make the bikini popular, as did the appearance of the teenage Brigitte Bardot in Manina, la fille sans voiles (released in March 1953). Following the appearance of Ursula Andress in a white bikini in the 1962 Bond Film Dr No, the popularity of the bikini became assured.

Multi-coloured bikini from 1993 [MS332/4/17]

Knitted bikini from 1993 [MS332/4/17]

The bikini marked a very long way forward from the serge, flannel and eventually wool long-sleeved nineteenth-century bathing dresses designed to preserve decency. Double suits were common, with a gown from shoulder to knee plus a set of trousers with leggings down to the ankles. As the century progressed ankle-length drawers replaced trousers as the bottom half of the ensemble, the top became hip length, the bottoms were shortened to knee length and both became more fitted.

As well as modest bathing costumes for women, bathing machines were developed as changing rooms on wheels. These enabled the machines to be pulled by horses into the sea, thus allowing women to enter the water without showing their bathing costume.

Bathing machines

Bathing machines, Illustrated London News, August 1888

Queen Victoria had a bathing machine at the beach near Osborne House, Isle of Wight, where she and her family spent their summers. In her journal of 30 July 1847 she notes her first experience of sea bathing:

“Drove to the beach with my maids and went in the bathing machine, where I undressed and bathed in the sea (for the 1st time in my life)… I thought it delightful till I put my head under water…”

With the dawn of the twentieth century, the yards of fabric used in Victorian bathing suits for women — which could be up to 9 yards of material — was reduced, allowing costumes to show a little more of their figures.

Sea bathing and costumes, 1910s [MS402/1/1]

Sea bathing and costumes, 1910s [MS402/1/1]

The year after the 1912 summer Olympics, when female swimming debuted and women wore costumes similar to those worn by the men, the designer Carl Jantzen produced swimwear that was a close fitting one-piece with short sleeves and shorts on the bottom.

Swimwear continued to evolve, new designs assisted by the development of manmade fibres and synthetics. In the 1930s, the tank suit, or maillot, became popular.

Swimming costumes, 1934

Swimming costumes, 1934 [MS1/7/291/22/2/27]

As swimwear developed in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, it followed the silhouette more closely. Cutaway swimsuits became popular in the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the fitness regimes of the period.

Whilst swimming costumes might be bought, suits also were hand knitted at home. This seems to have been particularly popular between the 1930s and 1950s, although there are patterns available from the 1900s. Later patterns include those for the crocheted cotton bikini of the 1970s, which had the unfortunate habit of stretching when wet.

Knitted bikini, Barcelona, 1993 [MS332/4/16]

Knitted bikini, Barcelona, 1993 [MS332/4/16]

Possibly destined never to test whether it would stretch if it became wet, this striking yellow bikini from the Montse Stanley Collection at Southampton was a garment designed to look elegant and bring a little glamour and style to the beach.

As well as the knitted swimwear, the Montse Stanley Collection also contains a selection of French and English seaside postcards and photographs featuring swimwear, ranging from bathers at the beach to some of those glamour shots of film stars. Montse Stanley was enthusiastic for all aspects of the history of knitting, a fact reflected in the impressive array of materials that form her collection.  The collection that is a rich resource for anyone interested in the creative possibilities of knitting.

Sea bathing and costumes, 1910s [MS402/1/1]
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Anyone for Tennis?!

As the heat and the tension rises at Wimbledon this week we look at the history of tennis through the University Archives.

Photo of Hartley University College mixed tennis group, 1910, MS1/7/291/22/1/108]

Hartley University College mixed tennis group, 1910 [MS1/7/291/22/1/108]

This charming Edwardian photo of Hartley University College students in 1910 shows the truly elegant sportswear of the time. While the ladies graced the courts in long skirts and large hats, the must-have fashion accessory for gentlemen seems to have been – the pipe?!

Hartley University College students, 1910-1912

Hartley University College students, 1910-1912 [MS1/7/291/22/1/84]

The Wimbledon Championships – established in 1877 by the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club – is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious of our tennis tournaments. The popularization of lawn tennis (not to be confused with ‘real tennis’ – see below) is widely credited to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield who published, in 1873, the first official rules of a game he called “Sphairistike” (from the Greek: “the art of playing ball”). He patented the rules and equipment of the game the following year and quickly sold 1,000 tennis sets at 5 guineas a piece! His pamphlet “book of the game” is now very rare; it set out the history of the game, the erection of the court, and the rules. These, and the scoring system for ‘lawn tennis’, have hardly changed since the 1890s: so our modern game would have been familiar to the Hartley University College students of one hundred years ago.

The earliest origins of Tennis, however, fade into the mists of time and are disputed – some authorities mention the Egyptians; many refer to a game popular with European monks in the twelfth century. This was played around a closed courtyard and the ball was struck with the palm of the hand, hence the name jeu de paume (“game of the palm”). The name ‘tennis’ may derive from the French word ‘tenez’, from the verb tenir, ‘to hold’.

‘Real’ tennis – also called court tennis or royal tennis – grew in popularity with the French and English aristocracy through the Middle Ages and was played in London in purpose-built covered courts as early as the sixteenth century. Henry VIII was a keen player at Hampton Court Palace.  The fortunes of the game waxed and waned, and by the 1820s, the only London tennis court still in operation was the James Street court near the Haymarket. The members of this newly revived club invited the Duke of Wellington to join them in 1820:

Letter from Robert Ludkin to  Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, 24 June 1820,  with list of members of the tennis club [MS 61 WP1/647/12]

Letter from Robert Ludkin to Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, 24 June 1820, with list of members of the Tennis Club [MS 61 WP1/647/12]

In his letter, Robert Ludkin, Acting Secretary of the Club, writes:

“A ‘Tennis Club’ having been recently established… I am desired to communicate to Your Grace this resolution of the Club and to assure you that its members will be most happy in the honor of your company whenever it may suit your Grace’s convenience to attend.”

You can see the Duke’s pencil draft for his reply, which was written across the front of the letter:

“Compliments the Duke is much flattered at being admitted a member of the James Club; & will be happy to attend whenever in his power.”

Ludkin enclosed a printed list of the present members, which included His Royal Highness the Duke of York –plus the Rules and Regulations of the Club. The latter relate solely to membership, rather than to the game, and record a hefty subscription of two guineas a year:

Rules and Regulations of the James Street Tennis Club, Haymarket, London, 1820

Rules and Regulations of the James Street Tennis Club, Haymarket, London, 1820 [MS 61 WP1/647/12 (enclosure)]

“The Tennis Club do hold their first Meeting and Dinner on the first Saturday after Easter in every Year; and do meet and dine together once a Fortnight to the 8th of July following.”

Did the Duke dine or did the Duke play tennis?  He certainly owned a private tennis court at his country house at Stratfield Saye, in Hampshire.  When in 1845, Prince Albert played here during the royal visit by Queen Victoria and her family, the event was chronicled in the Illustrated London News of 1st February that year:

Illustrated London News of 1st February 1845

Illustrated London News, 1st February 1845.

The ILN appended, for the fashionable Victorian reader, a brief history of the “olden game” of Tennis, concluding: “Thus it was in past ages, a royal and noble game.”