According to the fashion historians Richard Martin and Harold Koda, "Swimwear has served throughout the century to establish and represent standards of beauty and morality. Swim clothing serves this role supremely, not just because it can exchange dress and undress in the twinkling of a cabana or locker, but because water and the beach are the great proscenium of twentieth-century dress."12 Certainly it is true of the 1920s that, although there was much ado about fashion generally, no particular fashion aroused more anxiety and strife than did swimwear, nor did any other fashion more concisely signify the widespread cultural dissonance about the display of the female body.

Swimming, the activity for which bathing costumes were ostensibly designed, had been an increasingly popular pastime since at least the latter third of the nineteenth century. Early on, it appears, many felt that swimming was quite dangerous and relied on ingenious methods to reduce its risks. The "bathing car" was a large wire cage with attached floats. Bathers could occupy the cage and then immerse themselves by means of a pulley system to whatever depth they preferred. Not only was there great apprehension about bathers' personal safety in the late nineteenth century, but many worried even more about bathers' modesty. In fact, most public bathing at that time was a sexually segregated event. Women were carefully shielded from men's view. They rode wheeled "bathing machines" discreetly into the surf instead of forthrightly

walking into it, the "modesty hoods" attached to these machines keeping the submersion process hidden. The paranoia over personal safety as well as the strict segregation of male and female bathers eventually passed, and by the turn of the century desegregated bathing was common, particularly at seaside resorts. Still, bathing apparel for women was only somewhat less voluminous than everyday street wear. Martin and Koda explain that the "long civil war of swimwear" went on for nearly three decades. In the early years of the twentieth century, women began to reveal their arms; by the 1920s the war intensified over the progressive revelation of women's legs; and by the 1930s the primary change in swimwear was that men began to go without shirts.

The one-piece bathing suit, which had been popularized by the champion swimmer and later star of vaudeville and motion pictures, Annette Kellerman, was legally banned in some parts of the country. Kellerman herself was arrested for indecent exposure when she first appeared in her "body stocking" style suit at Boston's Revere Beach in 1908, and responses toward her attire would not have been much different in many places throughout the United States until late in the 1920s. Not only was the sleek Kellerman-
style suit physically freeing compared with the bulky yards of fabric in which women had formerly "bathed," but it was specifically problematic in that it quite clearly revealed the contours of the female figure. The suit was doubly offensive to some when stockings were eliminated or were not worn according to regulations, which usually meant they were rolled below the knees. In any case, the "Annette Kellerman," or more simply, the one-piece bathing costume, was considered the most daring kind of bathing apparel and therefore became the focus of many censorship efforts, not to mention sarcastic innuendo.

Most beach censorship was directed specifically at women. Although women and men enjoyed the nation's public swimming sites together by the 1920s, men's swimsuit codes, even if similar to those imposed on women, were not usually stressed and so received considerable attention when they were. For example, in Zion City, a small town near Lake Michigan in the northernmost part of Illinois, a ruling that men's bathing suits must be long enough to cover their knees and that a "skirt flapping over the thighs must be worn" was reported by major newspapers in both Chicago and New York.

These examples of beach censorship and regulation indicate not only particular concerns about decorum but also more general and historically grounded anxieties about cultural "playgrounds" as sites of sexual transgression. In previous eras such worries were allayed at the nation's beaches in part by segregating the sexes for swimming and, later, by using "modesty hoods" to conceal women's bodies. In the 1920s the "beach censor" who patrolled the shore assumed a primary place as guardian of public morality when America went swimming. Not all municipalities, of course, assigned the title of "censor" to the person(s) whose job it was to regulate behavior at places designated for public bathing. Whether "copette," "tailoress-censor," or simply a police officer, the job endowed its possessor with considerable authority and sometimes not insignificant financial remuneration. Certainly, lifeguards also monitored swimmers, but responsibility for enforcing codes of conduct was, at least in more heavily utilized locations, clearly distinct from that of lifesaving.

Predictably, people generally found ingenious and sometimes impudent ways to circumvent unpopular clothing regulations. In Hawaii, for example, a clergyman senator, Stephen Desha of Hilo Island, unhappy with local bathers' indiscretions in public places, enacted a law that no one over fourteen years of age could appear in a swimsuit unless "covered suitably by an outer garment reaching at least to the knees." It was later announced that bathers had begun to throw bath towels and mackinaw coats around their waists, thereby keeping their knees covered. These means, one report wryly noted, "did not fully accomplish the object of the law."13

The sometimes extreme opposition between forces for and against the rights of a woman to define "suitable" bathing attire for herself are nowhere more vividly illustrated than in an incident leading to the arrest of Louise Rosine, a resident of Los Angeles who visited Atlantic City in the late summer of 1921.

Rosine's rejection of what she felt were unreasonable dress codes and the circumstances surrounding her blatant defiance of them provide a vivid glimpse of the clash between opposing ideologies of "appropriate" femininity that coexisted in American culture in the early 1920s. Rosine's ordeal began when she refused to roll up her stockings to cover her knees when ordered to do so by a police officer. News reports of the incident describe this recalcitrant woman in detail, compared with many women noted in stories about noncompliance with bathing suit regulations throughout the early 1920s. Readers learned not only her name and where she was from, but also that Rosine was a novelist, thirty-nine years of age. Several accounts of her arrest, at least four of which were in New York newspapers, quoted and paraphrased her opinions at length.

In the early 1920s such accounts originated from all parts of the United States. It is significant that these stories were considered newsworthy even when, as in this case, they came from what was then merely a remote U.S. territory. It is also telling that, by the end of the decade, bathing costume standards were no longer of such interest. In fact, photographs indicate that, by 1930, bathing costumes that were once permitted primarily in western resort areas were worn regularly, even in formerly censorious regions of the country.

The declining concern over modesty in swimwear undoubtedly resulted from multiple factors. Mass media surely influenced national standards of decency by drawing attention to the variety of ways these issues were handled throughout the country, thus creating a reference point by which to gauge and modify the idiosyncrasies of local norms.

The mass production of photographic images, both in print and in movies, popularized fashions that might otherwise not have been as quickly introduced or accepted in certain regions. Over time, the effect of such publicity was inevitably to promote greater uniformity of modesty norms and consequently to increase tolerance for styles that, although initially thought to be offensive, were eventually accepted as a matter of course.

It was in the early 1920s, however, that the erosion of Victorian-era standards of conduct for women was most conspicuous. Less voluminous styles in bathing costumes represented, for the average woman at least, the farthest possible remove from a tenacious value system that both literally and figuratively would cloak her body and check her movements. As such, these styles were most vehemently opposed by those who would have retained such a value system. Abbreviated bathing costumes were so clearly justifiable from a purely pragmatic standpoint though that proponents of practical swimwear were just as prone to be vociferous. Thus, attempts to control morality by enforcing strict bathing dress codes and attempts to exert autonomy by resisting such codes were often equally emphatic.14

Whether based ostensibly on concern for a woman's autonomy or for her financial, moral, or physical well-being, specific arguments against fashionable displays by women of the 1920s seemed, as often as not, to have been ultimately little more than red herrings. Although in many ways women were being encouraged, if not actually thrust, into the difficult work of self-discovery, they were thwarted in this process at a most fundamental level; even the clothes they selected were still clearly in the public domain.

Women received multiple and conflicting messages about who they should be. On one hand, self-assertion and autonomy were valorized. On the other hand, women were told that they were still very much under orders to obey. Moralists, fashion and health experts, family members, and even those who otherwise staunchly defended women's equality and independence all wanted to control women's choices in clothing. The controversies that raged about women's fashions throughout the 1920s do indeed mark this era as a particularly important one in which to assess the interplay between conflicting social and ideological agendas as inscribed on the bodies of women.

12. Richard Martin and Harold Koda, Splash! A History of Swimwear (New York: Rizzoli, 1990). 43.
13. Latham, 81.
14. Latham, 82.