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1910s-20s women's swimming costume

Date: 1920
Overall: 690 × 510 mm
Medium: wool
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Erika Steller
Object Name: Swimsuit
Object No: 00054351

User Terms

    Early swimsuits represent bathing suit design, fashion and manufacture, and the development of an increasingly active beach and pool culture in Australia between the wars. The costume was worn by Mrs Gilkes who would catch the tram to the beach.
    SignificanceThis swimsuit is a rare, representative example of the beachwear fashions and textile technologies of the 1920s. Provenanced 1910-20s bathing costumes are rare and valuable to ANMM because they show swimwear style and design and by inference bathing and swimming mores, and attitudes to the body, athleticism and sport for men and women.

    HistoryThe Kookaburra brand was manufactured by Australian Knitting Mills Ltd in Richmond Victoria. The company also made Golden Fleece bathing suits and advertised men's, women's and children's costumes in newspapers, women's and trade magazines.

    The Australian Knitting Mills company was established in 1910 and expanded in 1928 'with 2000 hands' employed. The News, Adelaide reported on 21 April 1928 that 'the care and attention to each stage ... largely accounts for popularity of 'Golden fleece, Kookaburra and Ay-Kay-Em brands of underwear, pullovers and bathing costumes.'. It was one of several knitting mills in Australia which capitalised on the growing popularity of swimming and an active beach and pool culture by diversifying from knitted under and outer garments to specialise in swimwear.

    By the 1930s Australian Knitting Mills was marketing 'Klingtite bathers' adopting new materials and styles which further emphasised body contours.

    The one-piece elastic style fitted the body like a sock and allowed greater freedom of movement in the water than earlier suits designed in two pieces. This style of garment "changed bathing into swimming" and was worn by men and women. A full overskirt provided a double layer of wool for modesty. It was a modification of the earlier dress worn over bloomers for bathing in the late 19th century and the long top worn as part of two-piece Canadian swimsuits in the 1910s. Skirts rose to reveal more of the thigh, while tops became sleeveless, as neck-to-knee modesty restrictions were relaxed.

    This swimsuit is a rare, representative example of the beachwear fashions and textile technologies of the 1920s. It reflects developments in Australian and international costume design and manufacture when swimsuits became fashionable garments with the introduction of a broader range of colours and the use of geometric patterns in the wool knit influenced by European modernist design.

    In 1930 black Kookaburra suits with striped effects on skirt were advertised as follows: womens's 10/6; black with coloured bands around neck and armhole women's 12/11, O.S. 14/11, XOS 15/11 (Maitland daily Mercury 6/10/1930)1931. A men's costume sold for 8/11 in a May sale reported in the Cairns Post Friday 1 May 1931 p 14 .

    Makers of Famous Kookaburra bathing costumes plus Golden Fleece.. Argus advert Monday 19 dec 1927

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