What Swimsuit Fashions Looked Like 100 Years Ago – Arms Were Visible – How Shocking!
From The New York Tribune newspaper of June 16, 1918 comes this advertisement from Franklin Simon & Co..
They were not called bathing or swimsuits, but bathing dresses and for good reason. Women still covered their bodies in dresses from neck to toe. Things were getting a bit risque for the time- these dresses had exposed arms. Of course legs were still fully covered by material, but not completely hidden by the bathing dress.
While you might wear a hat to the beach today to protect you from the sun, in 1918 you wore a hat and went into the water with it! You also needed your bathing shoes – not flip flops or sandals – but pumps. The pumps came in black or navy with silk laces for $1.45. Other bathing shoes were made of canvas in white with black sateen foxing. They would set you back only $1.25.
The bathing dresses ranged in bust sizes from 32-44. Different materials were available at different price points. At $8.95 a wool bathing dress might not be the best outfit to go swimming in. You know this if you’ve ever gotten wool clothing wet. Wool retains water and can get incredibly heavy. The Satin or Tafetta Silk Bathing Dress would be a little bit more at $9.75, but probably more comfortable than wool. At the bottom of the ad, the most practical swimwear is almost hidden – Combination’s of black cotton Jersey for only $1.65.
The final touch to women’s beach apparel were a necessity, as a proper lady would never show any skin below the waist. Pure Thread Silk Stockings in black, white, navy or emerald green for 95¢.
If you are wondering about Franklin Simon, he was 13-years-old when he left school after the death of his father to take a job as a stock boy at Stern Brothers department store in 1878. His starting pay was $2.50 a week. Simon completed his education by going to night school and worked for Stern Brothers for 24 years rising in the company and saving his money.
In 1902 Simon opened his own store at Fifth Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets. The area was primarily residential and it was the only store specializing in women’s fashion that far north in the city. By the end of the 1920’s Franklin Simon was grossing $25 million a year. The company expanded through the 1930s opening branch stores. Simon died at age 69 in 1934 at his home in Purchase, NY. The company was sold by his family two years later for $2 million. After a 77 year run, Franklin Simon went out of business in 1979.