July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, so I bet many folks wanted to jump in a cool body of water (if such a thing exists anymore). Up until the 18th century or so, most people took a refreshing dip in the nude, but also in private or segregated by gender. As public and co-ed bathing became a thing, specialized outfits for swimming were needed, and while at first, these tended to be voluminous with the aim of hiding the body (especially female bodies), over time, swimwear got sleeker. This fashion evolution has only fleetingly shown up in frock flicks. When historical movies and TV shows do show swimming, it tends to be early 20th century swimwear, not much earlier.
Let’s see how frock flicks try to beat the heat with swimwear from the past!
Sanditon, episode 1 (2019)
Appropriate for a story set at a seaside resort, the series opened with several of the ladies wearing red garb and using a bathing machine to frolic in the waves. In the 1810s, a woman’s bathing costume would be closer to a heavy chemise, sometimes with small weights sewn into the hem so it wouldn’t immodestly float up. What’s worn in this show seems a bit more like what was worn later in the 19th century.
Compare with these chemise-clad ladies emerging from their bathing machines:
I think the TV show’s outfits are more reminiscent of:
I’ve analyzed these costumes in more depth (click the link) because I adore designer Colleen Atwood‘s gothic spin on Victorian bathing attire. These outfits skew towards the end of the 19th century, even though the story is ostensibly set earlier.
His suit is right out of period imagery:
Hers is definitely inspired by period fashions:
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, “Dead Man’s Chest” (2013)
Now we jump ahead to when recreational swimming becomes really popular. In the 1920s, fashion loosens up and shows more of the body, so revealing swimsuits are common. Phryne Fisher wears a colorful ’20s suit in an episode from season 2.
Her costume is right in line with the popular styles of the time:
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
Men’s swimwear of the ’20s and ’30s shared many of the same details as women’s — one piece, thigh-length to knee-length, belted, contrast trim. Hercule Poirot wears a fashionable ensemble in this film.
Here’s an extant example from an online auction that’s reminiscent of his costume:
The Durrells in Corfu (2016-19)
While the “bikini” wasn’t named until 1946, two-piece swimsuits were around long before that. Margo wears a cute knitted version for sun-bathing in Greece.
This knitted suit looks just like what she’s wearing in the episode!
She also wears a one-piece for swimming at other times in the series.
What’s your favorite style of historical swimsuit?