copyright © josh milton 2017
Preface: A belt clinch here a tropical print there, why did the one piece swimsuit become so popular?
The early 20th century was a rather dogmatic world. In the quilt of etiquette it was stitched with a multitude of restrictions, from the way women act to what they must wear. But a drop stitch may arise in the fabric; a person. Through these 100 years of fashion, the iconic fitted one-piece swimsuit had acted as a precursor for all forms of aquatic couture. Without this "drop stitch", the likes of Michael Kors' belt clinched swimwear would not be parading across the runways as you read. Yet who was the mystery individual that entailed all of this‽
Annette Kellerman was born 1886 in Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia and at a young age was intertwined with the liquid state of matter. At the age of 6, a weakness in Kellerman's legs beset the wearing of painful steel braces in order to strengthen them. Her parents, in a near desperate attempt, enrolled her in several swimming classes at Cavill's baths in Sydney. Initially for medical purposes, her attendance soon became voluntary as her legs rejuvenated and returned to full working order. And thus, her love for swimming was born.
At one time quoted as saying "I had the endurance but not the brute strength", her failed attempt of swimming the English Channel ultimately did not stop her advocating equality for the female empire for the facile right to wear a more flattering and revealing garment. As her subsequent determination reflected her obstinate ambition. At age 18, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel.
Imagine this. A seemingly picturesque scene of a typical hot summers say at Revere Beach, Massachusetts. Many women are enjoying their day, embracing the sun's rays whilst flaunting their recently purchased bathing suits; complete with frilly details and bloomers. Suddenly, pandemonium ensues as Kellerman makes her American debut donning a skin-tight black one-piece costume. Both knees and arms on show. "Oh, the horror", many women wailed. Shell shocked at the commodity that had manifested itself before them.
The outcome? Arrest. Yes, for the sole reason of "indecency", she was seized ∵ nothing screams promiscuity like a woman's arm and knee. Pleading her case, she replied to this accusation that she "...may as well be swimming in chains...". Living in a culture of prudishness, such remarks to customs would be met with a sift silencing.
But such progress cannot be censored. Kelleman committed these 'unfaithful deeds' at the height of her career. Garnering much praise that swelled into near universal acclaim; thusly opening her own line of swimsuits. Or the "Annette Kellermans" as they were referred to as. This paved a new age of modern, adventurous bikini lines, effectively contrasting the then accepted cumbersome dress and pantaloon combination that was popular at the time. Although a loss for pantaloon-lovers across the country, Kellerman garnered a considerable legacy.
Possessing raw talent in a myriad of other activities: vaudeville, film, fitness to writing. She was the epitome of women that were entangled in a world of social norms and the threat of punishment for being unconventional. Or in simple terms, doing what you want to do and not caring for the consequences. Having a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was even considered the Perfect Woman (because of the similarity of her physical attributes to the Venus de Milo) by Harvard University in 1908. Compare this to the glamour-obsessed skeletons whom feed off of attention received from Ok! Today...
Annette Kellerman was not just an daring innovator that changed societies' attitudes yet was also - blatantly put - a normal woman.