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Swimsuit Bans - A History!

Posted on November 15 2018

Are you struggling to decide between one of our fabulous Esther Williams retro swimsuits and our equally flattering high waist bikinis? Not sure whether it's The Carmen or The Marilyn that you just have to have for your winter break in the sun? Well thank yourself lucky you have a choice at all! Because not all women have had or, indeed today, have these choices. For the humble swimsuit has a long and complex history in the eyes of the law and society. Today, we’re looking at its history!

Firstly, let’s step back to 1907. Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman (played by our hero Esther Williams in the movie adaptation of her life Million Dollar Mermaid), the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel, was arrested for indecency for wearing, not a bikini, but a formfitting one-piece swimsuit! The swimsuit covered Kellerman from her neck down to her toes. That’s right, in 1907, a full body swimsuit was a serious affront to public morals. Women generally wore long bloomers and a tunic when on the beach. Logic dictates that this was not the easiest or most comfortable attire to swim in and Kellerman, an avid simmer, opted for something a little more comfortable. We can only imagine what they would have said about For Luna Swimwear's range of bikinis!

Although evidence suggests that two piece bathing suits were worn in Ancient Greece as far back as 1450BC, the modern bikini as we know it, was only introduced to the world in 1946. Designed by French engineer Louis Réard, the bikini met with significant social and religious resistance. The Vatican declared the bikini sinful and it was banned in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Australia as well as many states in the US. The Pope condemned the crowning of the 1951 Miss World, Kiki Håkansson from Sweden, because she was wearing a bikini and many Catholic countries threatened to withdraw their delegates. The post war world just wasn’t ready to see a woman’s midriff! 

Although the liberal 1960s saw the bikini gain widespread acceptance, the simple two piece continues to cause controversy and offence across the globe even in today’s ‘anything goes’ fashion culture. Women holidaying in the Spanish resort of Majorca risk being fined £500 if they leave the beach and wander onto the streets wearing bikinis. The regulations were implemented back in 2014 after workers in bars, restaurants and shops complained that they were fed up with having to serve half dressed customers. The citizens of Majorca, one of Britain’s favourite holiday destinations, were concerned that the bikini clad holiday makers were bringing down the tone of the area. The city of Palma’s deputy mayor, Alvaro Gijon, said the swimwear ban was meant to preserve ‘harmony and civility’. He claimed that no other ‘upscale resort town’ would allow the practice of wearing swimwear in public.

Eyebrows may be raised at bikini bans in European holiday resorts but it should come as no surprise that countries with large Muslim populations aren’t so keen on holiday makers flaunting their flesh. In 2010 a British woman was arrested for wearing a bikini in the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping centre, following an altercation with a local who complained about her wearing a low-cut top. The woman reportedly stripped down to her bikini in response to the complaint! She was later released without charge but the story serves as a reminder to respect local norms and customs when travelling abroad! And it’s not just in shopping malls and indoor spaces. In 2013 authorities in Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost emirate in the UAE, posted signs on public beaches warning of possible fines for wearing bikinis. The ban followed complaints from local families who were sick of seeing tourists exposing too much skin. Despite UAE being a Muslim country, many visitors failed to respect local culture and insisted on wearing revealing swimsuits on the beach.

While most of these stories involve a ban on bikinis, women in France have had the opposite. In 2016, the Authorites in many French towns banned the burkini which covers the body and head, citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country. Many were shocked by images of four armed police confronting a woman in Nice and forcing her to remove a tunic she was wearing on the beach! 

We say, wear what you like, be it burkina or bikini and never let anyone else tell you how to dress!



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