It is hard to imagine that just over 100 years ago, a woman would find herself being arrested for simply wearing a one-piece swimsuit at the beach, like what happened to Annette Kellerman, a pioneer in women’s rights and fashion.
The woman who to thank for modern-day acceptance of swimsuits and for freeing Greek women of itchy, woolly swimsuits has an intriguing story.
The role and rights of women worldwide have completely changed since a fateful day in 1907 when a 20-year-old Australian diver, Annette Kellerman, wore the world’s first one-piece bathing suit designed for a woman to a Boston beach in the U.S., where she was promptly arrested on charges of indecency.
When Kellerman was released from custody, the judge overseeing her case placed the condition that the athlete could only train, not swim for leisure, in the one-piece bathing suit, and that she had to wear black stockings – something that thankfully didn’t stick with the bathing suit trend!
Kellerman refused, and started designing her own suits, and then she went on to star in the first silent pictures with nude scenes.
Kellerman was born a fighter – her use of her legs was seriously debilitated by some unknown cause when she was a child — either by rickets or un-diagnosed polio.
The diver was given braces to straighten her legs, and her doctor recommended swimming as therapy. Some might say it was kismet, or destiny, as she recovered quickly and became a world-class athlete.
One-piece swimsuit gained popularity around the world
Luckily, Kellerman wasn’t the only woman who was ready to take to plunge into the 20th century and free herself from the woolly and itchy swimsuits of the times.
The swimsuits she designed started trending throughout the Western world — especially in Greece!
At the turn of the 20th century, women in Greece, like women around the world, sported a two-piece “swimsuit” consisting of a dress made of wool, which was worn over long bloomers, and stockings to the beach.
Can you imagine trying to swim in the sea in the hot Greek summer wearing multiple layers of wool?
When we think about the evolution of swimwear in Greece alone, its interesting to note that some of the sexiest and most provocative women’s swimsuits today are designed by Greek designers and are trending around the world. But, this was not always the case.
So, give a passing thought to the wool swimsuit/dress and then give a little thanks to Annette Kellerman the next time you go bikini shopping!
The evolution of freedoms for women ensued within a few decades after the world’s first one-piece swimsuit debuted, as beaches became “mixed” and women were allowed to swim with men throughout most of the Western world.
Soon after, the police stopped patrolling U.S. beaches with a measuring tape to be sure women’s suits were long enough to be considered “decent.”
As for Annette? The young athlete-turned designer spent her entire life as an advocate of health, fitness, and the promotion natural beauty.
She saw the swimsuit evolve into many forms throughout her lifetime from 1887 until her death in 1975.