The Laws of Bathing Suits

March 10, 2014 Law Research

Summer and warm weather is approaching soon, which means people will be shopping and preparing for bathing suit season. As much fun as the beach and pool can be, there was a time when wearing a bathing suit meant a woman could be arrested or warranted for indecent exposure. Swimsuits were said to be sinful according to the Vatican; they were even banned in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium, Australia, and United States for decades.

In the 1900s, there were laws put in place to ensure people were modest when it came to the way they dressed. At this time, it was required for women to wear a long, one piece bathing suit, with stockings as well. As swimming and other beach activities became more popular, people started to push the limits of these laws.

In 1907, Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimmer, was arrested for wearing a fitted, sleeveless, one-piece bathing suit on the beach in Boston. This was seen as acceptable swim attire in England and Australia, but not yet in the United States.

Men had strict laws to follow also; they were not allowed to go to the beach or pool without wearing a shirt in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The reason for this law is because they didn’t want it to look as if there were “gorillas on our beaches”. It wasn’t until 1937 that men would sport the infamous swim trunks and no shirt look at summer beach events.

In 1922, if you wore a bathing suit that was too short, you could receive a warrant from the police. They even had “bathing suit” patrol men who would measure to see if a bathing suit was of proper length standards. Bathing suits back then could not be more than 6 inches above the knees.

Policeman Measuring Bathing Suit

Policeman Measuring a Woman’s Bathing Suit

In July 1946, a French mechanical engineer, Louis Reard, introduced the bikini to the world. He saw women rolling up the edges of their swimsuits to tan better, which inspired him to create the design of the bikini. However, bikini sales did not pick up quickly because women were used to their traditional two-piece suits. On the other hand, upper class European women embraced the bikini look, and helped the trend slowly grow. By the 1960s, bikinis started to rise in popularity, mostly because of Bond Girl, Ursula Andress’s scene emerging from the ocean in a white bikini in Dr. No. Because of the rising popularity of two-piece bathing suits, laws started to become more relaxed and less strict.

Since then, bikinis and bathing suits have been more socially accepted and have become a staple of summertime. They come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, and show how far along women have come when it comes to that they can wear to the beach and pool. There are still rules to help prevent indecent exposure on some beaches and pools. For example, on Myrtle Beach in 2013, four women were arrested for wearing thong bikinis because of indecent exposure. Also, in Barcelona, Spain, it is illegal to wear a bikini in public unless you are near a beach area.

Micheline Bernardini Models the First Bikini in July 1946

Micheline Bernardini Models the First Bikini, 1946

From being extremely strict to becoming more relaxed, laws regulating swimwear have had an interesting history, and found ways to adjust with the changing trends of summer.

One thought on “The Laws of Bathing Suits”

  1. Daniel McDaniels says:

    I live in conway south carolina and i am womdering if it is legal to wear a man bikini style briefs on the beach in public? All ive seen online is it is illegal for anyone to wear thong bathing suits

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