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Silk overdress to be worn over one piece Annette Kellermann brand swimming tights

Date: 1910s
Overall (laid flat): 920 x 720 mm
Medium: Silk
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Swimsuit overdress
Object No: 00045979

User Terms

    This black swimsuit is based on the design worn and championed by Annette Kellermann for use by women in the early 1900s. It was made by Asbury Mills in the USA and marketed as 'Annette Kellermann swimming tights'. The black silk overdress was worn to preserve modesty in public when out of the water.

    Annette Kellerman (1886-1975) was pivotal in changing the style of swimsuit worn by women in the early 1900s. She promoted active glamour and physical fitness for women and in 1907 controversially appearred in public on Revere Beach, Boston, wearing a man's one-piece unitard swimsuit with her legs uncovered. The ensuing publicity saw a shift in public opinion over what was considered acceptible for women to wear when bathing and swimming in public. Cumbersome bathing dresses were replaced by this style of modern swimsuit which allowed greater freedom of movement in the water.

    SignificanceThis swimsuit is representative of the 'Annette Kellermann' brand swimsuit range created by Asbury Mills in the USA.
    HistoryBorn in 1886 in Marrickville, Sydney, Annette Kellerman was a New South Wales swimming champion who left for England at age 18 to help her struggling family. She competed as a long distance swimmer, attempting to swim the English Channel three times, and swam against men in the annual race along the Seine in 1907, coming equal third.

    Kellerman established herself as a performer through exotic swimming and diving demonstrations. By 1906 she had moved to vaudeville theatre in America as 'Australia's Mermaid' and quickly progressed to the big screen. Kellerman enjoyed tremendous success as a silent movie star in mythological underwater films, including Neptune's Daughter (1914) and Daughter of the Gods (1916).

    In 1907 Kellerman, appeared on a Boston beach in a revealing cut-down man's bathing suit where she was quickly arrested for indecent exposure. Kellerman's arrest came in an era when clingy woollen swimsuits were considered risque and even pornographic, especially in Europe and America.

    Her move to vaudeville theatre in America, titillating underwater films and trademark figure-hugging suits pushed the boundaries of 20th century propriety and turned her into an international star. Kellerman was dubbed 'the perfect woman' and compared to classical ideals of beauty such as the Venus de Milo, by Dr Dudley Sargent, director of a Harvard University gymnasium. She championed women's health, beauty and fitness by giving lectures and writing books such as Physical Beauty and How to Keep It (1918) and the partly autobiographic text How to swim (1918). Kellerman also taught physical fitness through corrspondence courses.

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