The Roaring Twenties
The end of World War I and the start of the 1920s introduces a new era in social behavior. Women become more daring, they abandon Victorian dress for looser-fitting clothes, and they allow their arms, legs, and feet to become bared. In 1920 women in America acquire the universal right to vote, but at the same time prohibition on the sale of alcoholic drinks ushers in an era of lawlessness and organized crime.
Jazz is hot. New dance steps, influenced by the Afro-Americans and by burlesque, achieve wide popularity. French fashion designer Coco Chanel helps design the image of the flappers--a "new breed" of young women who wear short skirts, bob their hair, listen to jazz music, and flaunt their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. The flappers are seen as brash; they wear excessive makeup, drink, smoke, drive automobiles, and show a lot of skin.
On Broadway chorus girls and stars begin to appear topless and nude, following a trend already prevalent in Paris. Nude photos of dancers and the emerging silent movie stars appear in "camera" magazines as well as postcard pinups.
At a more pedestrian level the first Miss America contest glamorizes the bathing beauty (LM21C5). Margaret Gorman is the first winner at Atlantic City in 1921 (MG2110).
Swimwear Trends and Fashion Lines
Swimwear fashions in the early 1920s consolidate, with the maillot skirted pantaloon becoming a costume of preference for movie stars and the real-world adventurous. The maillot skirted pantaloon is worn by both sexes (JZ2130) and is a stable for two of the emerging American swimsuit companies, Cole (CC25AA) and Jantzen (JZ2160), both California enterprises.
French pinups continue to wear the more risqué maillot pantaloon, often with beautiful hand-tinted renditions, like these published by Noyer in Paris (AN2X10BS). French pinup girls all bare their arms, legs and feet, but these skirtless pinups also allow the maillots to reveal the the shapes of the crotch, if not an occasional camel toe. Competitor pinups from EK Co are also hatted and shod (EK2E10BS). PC Paris pinups wear very thin and form-fitted swimsuits, frequently detailed (VG0095BS). Perfect girls sport parasols (VG0064BS). SOL girls are often captured in closeup (VG000BBS). DIX approach the hand-tints a bit differently; like some of their compatriots, these pinups sometimes wear belts, a topic we will explore more shortly. The DIX girls also show how the two buttons on each of the shoulder straps work (DX25BS). Super Girl 766 shows us what is clearly a very early topless maillot (VG00T0_0766).
The juxtaposition of the two styles--the maillot skirted pantaloon and its unskirted sister--differ only in the protection afforded to the crotch and buttocks; still this differentiates the respectable from the not. The momentum of the fashion trend is that the pantaloons are rising upwards. As the pantaloons rise up the maillot skirted pantaloon will evolve to a maillot skirted, and as the pantaloons rise up and vanish on the unskirted maillot pantaloon the pure maillot tank will be born. But in the early 1920s, these events still lie in the future.
Fashionlines, Necklines & Armholes
As for the neckline and armholes...well décolletage and armhole predate the maillot and remain playful, as does the strap width, something else to keep an eye on.
The most common maillot neckline is the scoop, from high at the throat to décolleté (SS2510). But beside scoops one finds v-cut plunging styles that dive to below the xiphoid, allowing for generous cleavages that are guaranteed to jeopardize nipples.
Strap widths range from wide to narrow and string. And larger armholes put side cleavage into play in all species. Bare backs, the haltered and strapless maillot still lie in the future.
A belt or a sash is a frequent companion of tank tops and shorts, and is also worn with maillots as the 1920s progress. The belt divides the costume into two pieces, even if it is actually a one piece maillot. Knitted cotton horizontal striped tops comboed with solid colored shorts are one manifestation (CC25AA). The ensemble is usually worn bare-legged and with hat, stockings and shoes.
The belt has been an on-again/off-again accessory throughout swimwear history. It is worn with maillot throughout the teens, contouring the waist, and will not be abandoned until fashionites choose minimalist and more fitting swimsuits many decades from now.
The placement of the belt into this form factor (e.g, a reducing maillot or a tank top and shorts) strengthens the waistline, focuses attention on it, and then guides the waistline progressively lower, migrating from the waist to the hips throughout the 1920s (). The belt covers the mystery as to whether the top and the bottom are joined in one piece, or if the tank top is tucked into the shorts, with accidental bare midriff exposures a possibility.
Male swimsuit styles throughout the teens and twenties mirror and are similar to female styles. The typical male suit evolves from the exercise leotard and is a one-piece tank, sleeveless, open-necked, and retreating up the leg. The original Jantzen Rowing Suit, circa 1915, is a wool sporting garment with horizontal stripes (J191501), and it persists with little change until the 1930s. Like the female swimsuit, nipples are kept covered; but unlike the feminine, the leg is bared much earlier. For both sexes, the amount of exposed leg is often a matter of official if not social regulation. The male sexual equipment, being external and not internal, requires more of a pocket to accommodate them; and are hidden by a short skirt, not significantly different from the females (JZ2130).
Colors are a big addition by the 1920s. Both sexes wear short skirts and pantaloons, often strictly regulated, but a major difference is a relaxed requirement for men to wear a hat and the omission of shoes and hose, which allows the entire leg to be exposed. But with this exception, the styles of this period are remarkable androgynous, a factor lost after the two-piece evolves, and not discovered again until the 1980s. Note than men's chests are always covered, and that bare chests are forbidden (PC2020, MF2150, CU2150).
The Real Beach & Its Fantasy
On real beaches the Kodak Brownie Camera makes possible the beginning of one's own photo scrapbook. Girlfriends and boyfriends, wives and husbands, and families are all subjects for documentation of a holiday or a personal pinup. This smiling 1922 beauty has a headscarf, bathing dress, hose and shoes; only her arms and knees and face is bare (DH2250).
The postcard beach combines element of the real beach with the fantasy of a slightly sexier girl; as a result the real beach starts to mimic the fantasy. It is possible that bathing wagons are still in use at Ostende, but the skirtless maillot pantaloons are pushing the envelope of decorum (PC2E20). This postcard is a "humorous" but seems to capture the environment (PC1920).
This postcard pinup has strapoffed her maillot strapoff and rolled her hose down (PC2E10). And this pinup has unbuttoned her straps (PC2M50). These all become role models for the girlfriend whose boyfriend wants her to be daring.
Movie & Burlesque Costumes
Broadway and Hollywood continue to exert major influence on what parts of the body are exposed--although there continues to be a difference between what is shown on the stage and screen and what is paraded in real life.
On Broadway, producers introduce topless dancers into their reviews, bring a little bit of Paris (FB2410) to New York. Topless models have appeared on Broadway before, but always in a tableau vivant content--immobile and posed as if a still picture. Now the topless girls move in synchronization with music. Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston, working for the Ziegfeld Follies, photographs Louise Brooks (LB2514), Norma Shearer and many more, not only topless but usually nude. The Shubert Brothers, Minksys, George White Scandals, and Early Carroll's Vanities also undress their girls, and the photographs adorn a new breed of monthly magazines that feature picture of the showgirls in "artistic" poses. Hollywood hopefuls like Gloria Swanson and regulars like Bessie Love also appear topless.
Hollywood also manages to incorporate topless extras in films a variety of ways, including the painter's model (RV2150) and the Biblical epic complete with a historical harem scene (KR2110).
Costumes that bare the belly and legs are also far more revealing than anything seen on the beach: Myrna Loy displays a bare belly in a harem costume (ML2410), Anna May Wong wears bandeau and shorts not unlike a deux-pièces swimsuit (AW2450). Bette Blythe wears breast plates and a skirt (BB20-26BS). And a young Joan Crawford dances in a bandeau and sash--and bares her belly button (JC2450).
Besides Broadway and Hollywood a new form of theater is also simmering up to a boil, and that is the evolution of burlesque and striptease, which have long be prescient to Bikini Science. Carrie Finnell (CF2310) and Isabelle Van are among its first stars.