Okay, I know that the garment above doesn’t look like a big deal, but appearances can really deceive. In 1905 when other women around the world were wearing dress and bloomer bathing suits, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman introduced Europe to the one-piece swimming suit for women. At the time, even most men were still wearing two-piece bathing suits, consisting of knit trunks that came to the knee with a long tee shirt on top.
But in Australia, competitive swimmers, both male and female, had begun wearing one-piece knit suits for the sport. When Kellerman went to England in 1905 for a swimming exhibition, she found a much stricter set of rules for women swimmers. In order to perform, she took a pair of black stockings and sewed them to her suit to provide more coverage. She was then allowed to perform.
Two years later Kellerman gained notoriety when she appeared on a beach near Boston, and was promptly arrested for indecency. At her hearing she argued that swimming was a healthful exercise, but that bulky bathing suits did not allow one to swim. The judge agreed, provided she agreed to wear a robe when not in the water.
Note: On the Powerhouse Museum website, the notes for an Annette Kellermann suit in their collection state, “…the story that she got herself arrested at Boston’s Revere Beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit is not supported by evidence.” The story is often repeated, and Kellerman herself related the tale in a 1953 interview.
By this time Kellerman was quite famous, and so the time was right to capitalize on her name. The right deal came along in the form of Asbury Mills, who for about twenty years made Annette Kellermann swimsuits. The early ones were very similar to what she had been wearing, but by the late 1910s, the products were more like the standard 1920s swimsuit for women. In fact, one Australian site credits Kellerman with coming up with the one-piece suit with the attached overskirt.
My suit has a deeply scooped neck of the type Kellerman seemed to favor. The photos of her in her very early suits show a small cap sleeve instead of my sleeveless version.
The description of the suit on the site where I found it read that the waist seam stitches were broken. When I received the suit I realized that there was no waist seam originally and that a former owner had put the seam it to shorten it. There was so little of the seam left that I made the decision to remove it.
Whenever I have a garment that has alterations or damage, I have to decide what, if anything, to do about it. Many times I leave it as is, but in this case I wanted the swimsuit returned, as much as possible, to the original state.
I say as close as possible, because the seam did leave a crease and a faint faded area.
The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has an extensive collection of Kellerman material, including many of the costumes she wore in movies and public performances. Starting August 10, much of it will be on display at the museum.
You might have noticed that I used two different spellings of Annette’s name. While she generally spelled Kellerman with one N, she did use two N’s on her label and in her books.