Is it time to deliver again wool swimsuits?

Woollen swimwear. State Library of Queensland

With concern mounting over microplastics and the seek for sustainable choices, the woollen swimsuits of the previous could possibly be the swimwear of the longer term, writes LORINDA CRAMER.

WOOLLEN swimwear, standard a century in the past, would possibly quickly make a splash on Australian seashores once more.

Within the nineteenth century, when pure fibres had been the one possibility, beach-goers donned costumes made from wool or cotton. Swimsuits worn on the water’s edge or within the crashing waves remodeled throughout the twentieth century from pure fibres to modern, high-performance synthetics.

However with concern mounting over microplastics and the seek for sustainable choices, the woollen swimsuits of the previous could possibly be the swimwear of the longer term.

Shifting (and shrinking) swimsuits

A lot who loved a day on the sand within the first many years of the twentieth century did so totally clothed. It was not unusual for males to decorate for the seashore in three-piece fits or for ladies to put on robes that fell to their ankles.

Postcard of people at the beach in long white dresses and suits.
At the start of the final century, individuals usually went to the seashore totally clothed. Nationwide Museum of Australia

However girls who ventured into the water donned belted, knee-length bathing robes that featured bloomers to hide the legs. Males’s two-piece bathing costumes revealed just a little extra, with a high extending to the thighs paired with shorts to the knees.

Within the area of a few many years, nonetheless, swimsuits radically modified. Types altered as attitudes to the publicity of our bodies relaxed, shifting concepts round public morality.

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A group of friends, covered from neck to knee.
Each women and men had been modestly dressed for swimming. State Library of Queensland

The Thirties witnessed an increase in topless bathing for males as they adopted trunks. Some had half skirts on the entrance, and plenty of sported belts with buckles to maintain them firmly on the waist.

Girls’s swimwear now revealed the arms, legs and again – then much more when bikinis appeared on Australian seashores in 1950. Shock rippled throughout the sand.

Swimwear had reached body-baring new dimensions.

Wool on the seashore

Knitted wool – reasonably than woven wool or cotton – fitted swimwear snugly to the physique, serving to it shrink in dimension.

For wearers of Foy & Gibson’s evocatively named wool fits within the late Nineteen Twenties and early Thirties – “Sunnybeach”, “Sunbath”, “Seafit” and “Siren” amongst them – this knit supplied consolation and freedom.

Speedo’s knitted wool trunks within the late Thirties had been made to streamline males’s figures, sparking the attractive slogan: “Subsequent to your determine Speedo appears greatest!”

These with knitting expertise may make their very own swimsuits that decade, utilizing directions like these given within the Australian Girls’s Weekly.

With the introduction of “Lastex” – a rubber yarn – to woollen swimsuits within the Thirties, they transitioned to much more body-hugging suits. These exuded a brand new form of glamorous attraction that elevated swimwear to a “sea-ductive” (as one newspaper columnist quipped) new top.

The artificial swimsuit revolution

When synthetics burst onto the market, Australians embraced the brand new “fashionable” fibres. Wool was additionally briefly provide, prioritised for uniforms and blankets for second world conflict troops.

Swimwear began to be made within the so-called “miracle” fibres: nylon within the Nineteen Forties, then polyester (often known as “Terylene” in Australia) within the Fifties. From the Nineteen Sixties, “Lycra” (additionally known as elastane and spandex) was blended into swimsuits. These made sleeker, slimmer, extra satin-like fits.

By the Nineteen Sixties, bathing fits had been extra streamlined and made with artificial fibres. H. Dacre Stubbs/State Library of Victoria, CC BY

Neoprene, a foam cloth, first appeared in wetsuits on Australia’s seashores within the late Fifties – growing the probabilities for winter browsing. Wetsuits improved considerably in many years to observe, protecting their wearer heat by trapping a skinny layer of water heated by the physique.

Within the pool, our Olympic swimmers examined extra superior materials. These on the Sydney Video games in 2000 wore the Speedo “fastskin”, with its compression cloth and replication of shark pores and skin scales that streamlined the physique within the water.

Extra just lately, swimsuits comprised of recycled plastic – bottles, baggage and different plastic waste – have emerged as an eco-friendly possibility. Some query, nonetheless, simply how inexperienced these recycled swimmers actually are when decreasing all plastic consumption is required to make a distinction.

Why wool, once more?

We would dismiss woollen swimsuits from the twentieth century’s first many years as disagreeable or uncomfortable to put on. Or we’d see them as unflattering for the way in which they sagged when moist.

However new processes for working with wool recommend it’s excellent to put on within the water. New merino boardshorts have been designed to dry in lower than seven minutes. Wool can be thermo-regulating, serving to the physique keep a fair temperature.

It’s not simply that wool choices are more and more obtainable. As we purchase and throw away clothes at alarming charges, some have embraced the pure fibre as a sustainable, renewable various to synthetics.

A happy crowd of people on the beach.
As we speak’s knitted bathers look fairly totally different to those. Museums Victoria

Wool is biodegradable, naturally returning to and nourishing the earth, in contrast to synthetics that may take centuries to interrupt down. Garments in synthetic fibres linger in landfill, with devastating penalties.

Our rising consciousness of microplastics – tiny fibres launched with washing that pollute marine (and different) environments – can be driving this shift.

So is it time to rethink carrying wool as you head to the seashore this summer season?The Conversation

Lorinda Cramer, Analysis Fellow, Australian Catholic College. This text is republished from The Dialog.

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