Swimwear improvements over the last Century

It is often said that the best way for swimmers to optimise their performance is to swim naked and until the middle of 19th century, that’s exactly what most people did! The following brief history of swimming attire will make you appreciate the benefits of modern technology when you next dive into a swimming pool or relax in the spa, sauna or steam room.

Swimming costumes have been around since the 1800s but most were made from woollen materials which were extremely heavy when wet and hardly flattering! It wasn’t until the end of World War II that companies began developing materials designed to increase the swimmer’s speed. Elite swimmers, including the 1924 British Olympic team, wore outfits made of silk, which was lighter and more comfortable but very expensive.

Manufacturer’s designs had to adhere to the Amateur Swimming Association’s rules regarding taste and decency, many of which are still in place today. The development of man-made fabrics such as nylon which were light weight, comfortable and cheap to produce was a major break through in swimwear technology. Male swimmers wore full body swimsuits up until the 1940s, which caused more drag in the water than their modern hydra-dynamic swim-wear counterparts. In 1943 the US ordered the reduction of fabric in swimsuits by 10% due to wartime shortages, resulting in the first two piece swimsuits. Shortly afterwards the Bikini was invented by Louis Reard.

Realising that fractions of a second can be the difference between Olympic silver and gold, the Amateur Swimming Association commissioned a report into the issue of drag in 1972 and by the early 1980’s Speedo revolutionised swim wear by developing Lycra which minimises drag so maximises the swimmer’s speed. Speedo’s latest innovation, the all-in-one bodysuit designed to mimic the movement of a shark was worn by Michael Phelps at the Olympics in 2004 and 2008. These performance enhancing, polyurethane body suits proved highly controversial and were banned by FINA; swimming’s governing body, on January 1st 2010. Whatever will the swim wear companies think of next?

Early swimming caps were made from cotton or silk. Rubber caps were introduced in the 1920’s to preserve hair styles and to protect hair from chemical damage. The earliest chin strap caps were known as “aviator’s style” as they resembled flyer’s leather helmets! During the 1940s swimming caps became scarce as rubber was needed for war materials. Men’s long hair styles of the late 1960s and early 70′s resulted in swimming pool’s introducing a rule requiring swimmers with long hair to wear caps to avoid clogging the pool’s filters. Competitive swimming’s research to boost speed by reducing drag made swimming caps even more popular from the 1980’s onwards. David Wilkie was the first swimmer to wear a swimming cap at a major competition when he won bronze in the 200 metre backstroke event at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.

The development of goggles can be traced back to the 14th Century, when Persians used tortoise shells to cover their eyes while diving for pearls! Goggles were first used in competitive swimming to protect the eyes from the salt during English Channel crossings, with Thomas Burgess wearing goggles similar to motorcycle goggles to cross the Channel in 1911. Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, also used motorcycle goggles but she made hers watertight with a paraffin seal! For many years, goggles were still bulky and uncomfortable so swimmers either suffered the discomfort of the goggles or the discomfort of swimming pool chemicals stinging their eyes. By the 1970’s, goggles were standard equipment, though they weren’t permitted at the Olympics until 1976. Today’s high tech goggles are hydrodynamic, anti fog, comfortable and stylish and prescription lenses are increasingly common place. Tinted goggle lenses are even available to provide UV protection for outdoor swimming!

Kitted out in all the latest hydrodynamic kit, how fast can you go? There’s only one way to find out … Install an above ground swimming pool; along with a spa, sauna or steam room for some well earned post exercise relaxation. With Products4Pool’s complete range of pool care products, swimming pool covers, heating systems and water treatment filters, your blue lagoon will always be crystal clear, hygienic, warm and inviting… What are you waiting for?


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