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During the 18th century, spas where men and women engaged in public bathing began appearing in France and England. Men and women still bathed infrequently however and the typical "swim" was a brief dip in the water with ladies on one side of the beach and men on the other. The earliest bathing suit may have possibly been an old smock resembling a kind of "bathing gown." Modesty was the dictum with style not much of a consideration in those days. The first suits were far from practical or comfortable; ladies went as far as to sewing lead weights into the hem of the "bathing gown" to prevent the dress from floating up and exposing her legs.

By the mid 1800's bathing became considered a recreation whereas previously it had been merely a therapeutic device. The early 1800's marked the beginning of a revolution in swim wear when Americans flocked to the beaches for seaside recreation. Technological innovations such as railroads made public beaches more accessible for vacations. With increased recreation time and improved economic conditions, the time was ripe for change in women's swim wear. People flocked to the seaside for popular seaside activities such as swimming, surf bathing, and diving. A need for a special costume that retained modesty but was free enough to enable the wearer to engage in sports became obvious.

The first swimsuits consisted of bloomers and black stockings. By 1855, drawers were added to prevent the problem of exposure. Women still refrained from swimming too much; the prevailing attitude of the day was that only men should swim. Gradual improvements were being made in the cut of the suit itself. By the end of the 19th century, swimming had become an "art," as well as an intercollegiate and Olympic sport. In this environment, it finally became acceptable for women to swim. Now women's bathing suits really had an opportunity to take off. By the 1880's the "Princess" cut was introduced, consisting of a blouse and trousers in one piece. The skirts were traded in for cotton-like pants. There was also a separate skirt that fell below the knee and button at the waist to conceal the figure. A ruffled cap or a straw hat completed the ensemble.

The new swimsuits relied heavily on the form of the "fashionable" body, gradually exposing more and more skin. The beginning of the twentieth century marked a new daring era in swim wear for women. In 1909, Australian Annette Kellerman was arrested in the United States for wearing a loose, one piece suit that became the generally accepted swimsuit for women by 1910. After that swimsuits began the trend of becoming lighter and briefer. The apron disappeared by 1918, leaving a tunic covering the shorts. Even though matching stockings were still worn, bare legs were exposed from the bottom of the trunks to the top of the shorts. With the Roaring 20's following WWI, there was a large increase in appreciation of recreation and the spending of leisure time. This was manifested in the first annual "Bathing Suit Day" held on May16, 1916 at Madison Square Garden .

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