Looking at swimwear through the ages at Manor House Museum

editorial image

Fancy going swimming in a woolly jumper?

Once upon a time knitted swimwear was all the rage, and there is a chance to see just how different the garments, our historic counterparts posed by the pool in were.

An exhibition at Kettering Borough’s Manor House Museum, which runs until Saturday, is showing a range of swimwear through the ages.

“The first swimwear represented the fashions at the seaside and centred around the promenade, so it was very plush and everyone wanted to be seen in their best,” said Eleanor Baumber, museum officer at Kettering Museum and Art Gallery.

“From there we go into the bathing costumes, which were very much about covering up.

“They used to have bathing machines that they could change in and then they would be carried right out into the sea so that they wouldn’t be seen.

“These suits were often more like a dresses. We have a replica women’s bathing costume, in the nautical ‘sailor style’, from around 1900.

“This style was popularised by Queen Victoria when she dressed her children in ‘sailor suits’.

“Navy blue or black clothing with white trims, became all the rage for seaside fashion.

“This woman’s bathing suit would have been worn with a pair of long shorts underneath, for both bathing and swimming.”

It wasn’t until the 1920s that bathing suits started to morph into what we are more familiar with now, says Eleanor.

“I think a lot of the more revealing outfits came with a fashion for taking a tan.

“It came from Coco Channel from the 1920s on. She sunbathed on the French Riviera, and whereas before a tan was seen as a working class thing, which only the workers had, from then on it became something fashionable.

“The size of the swimsuit steadily decreased and then most modern style of the two-piece came in the 1960s.

“One of the most colourful pieces we have in the exhibition is a 1960s two-piece, which is one of the most colourful things I have ever seen.

“We also have knitted swim pants and tops and some knitting patterns, which were really popular in the 20th century.

“Wool was not very practical for swimming. These would have been very heavy and not easy to swim in, but knitting them would have been a cheaper way to get one and home-made swimwear was very popular for a while.”

For more information on the museum opening times visit www.
kettering.gov.uk.