The Shrinking Swimsuit: 100 years of swimwear in New Zealand

Past exhibition

No garment is more revealing of the fashions of the times than the swimsuit. From Edwardian bathing costumes to the best in contemporary styles, see what has constituted glamorous fashion and witness how the swimsuit has shrunk over the decades.

In the 1800s it was modesty and the beauty ideal of pale skin that dictated a swimming costume in dark colour fabric, that thick enough to not become see-through when wet. Once in the water these became heavy so when the liberal young ladies wanted to be more active, they adopted the smaller, fitted woollen swimsuits worn by men. Men also found their swimsuit shrinking until in the mid 1930s, it became acceptable for men to fully expose their torsos. 

During WWII, women found new freedoms in fashion and lifestyle. Taking on men's work also meant wearing the trousers and this casual approach translated to swimwear. Material shortages contributed to cutting the middle out of swimsuits, saving fabric and making movement easier.

In the 1970s and 1980s we wore even smaller swimsuits that stayed in place due to the use of Lycra. But as we moved into the 21st century many of us adopted practical swimwear for water-based activities and cover-ups that offered protection from the sun.

Curated by Doris de Pont.

Supported by Heart of the CityPanukuAuckland CouncilPurfex and Big Colour.

Garments in the exhibition

When & where

26 February - 6 March 2016

Te Wero Island, Viaduct Harbour, Auckland