Modesty Laws and the Badass Babes That Said “Nah”

When we think of swimwear, we typically think of bikinis or one-pieces in bright colors or bold prints. Swimwear didn’t always look the way it does today, but did you know that not only were there modesty laws in place in the USA, but it wasn’t uncommon for women to be arrested for violating these laws? Let’s get into the nitty, gritty history of swimsuits for women.

The History of Forbidden One-Pieces

(image via rare historical photo)

Yup. That’s a photo of a woman being arrested for wearing a “skimpy” bathing suit, circa 1922. In the early 1900s, there were all kinds of modesty laws in place that said women had to wear long one-piece garments on the beach or poolside, stockings included.

There were even laws in place stating that men couldn’t have their shirts off, so yeah, tough crowd. So tough, in fact, that bathing suit patrolmen were a thing, and their job was to go around to women on beaches and make sure their bathing suits weren’t more than six inches above the knee.

(image via rare historical photos)

A Spark of Change

Fast forward to the year 1908, when champion swimmer, vaudeville, and film star actress Annette Kellerman debuted a one-piece swimsuit that showed her arms, legs, and (gasp!) her neck! Kellerman was actually arrested for indecent exposure, and her version of a bathing suit was banned in parts of the United States.

While Kellerman changed the style of her attire to abide by the law and cover her arms, legs, and of course, her neck, her suit was still considered very form-fitting, and people started liking the look.

Beach Fashion Grew Despite Arrests

(image via Wikipedia)

Slowly, but surely, more and more women began to show their arms, legs, and necks, which meant more and more women were being arrested for indecent exposure. Now, luckily it was rare for a woman to actually serve time for this, but arrests and fines were not unusual.

With women everywhere uniting and wearing what they wanted despite the arrests, it’s no surprise that the police force couldn’t keep track of them all. It was through this unity that women’s swimwear started to change into what it is today.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s still a bit more history to be told.

Enter the 1930s

(image via love to know)

Necklines plunged, arms were out for everyone to see, and bathing suits had, what we would call today, keyhole cutouts. Up until this point, however, women’s bathing suits weren’t exactly comfortable.

In fact, suits were typically made from flannel and opaque fabrics. Not only that, but they were also weighed down with lead to prevent skirts from floating in the water, making them super uncomfortable. New textiles, such as latex and nylon, allowed for tighter suits with adjustable straps.

Introducing the Bikini

Once the mid-1940s came around, a French mechanical engineer named Louis Reard noticed women were adjusting and rolling their bathing suits to tan better and more efficiently, so he created what we know now as the bikini.

Unfortunately, the bikini didn’t catch on – at least not until the 1960s (thank you Bond Girl, Ursula Andress.)

(image via amazon)

With all of this in mind, the next time you put some swimwear on to hit the beach or take a dip in the pool, think of all those badass babes before you and have an extra poolside marg for them.

Sources:,,,, the,


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