The permissiveness of the 1920s encourages more fitted swimwear to inhabit the beach. Indeed, the swimsuit progression is insensitive to the Great Depression of 1929 as well as the rise in censorship in the early 1930s. The Hays Code dictates behavior and dress in the movies, and temporarily breaks the permissive spirit in that milieu: Bare breasts, bare navels, bosom, the inside of the thigh, and lace lingerie are all banned in the cinema. Earlier silent classics like Abel Gance's Napoleon and Griffith's Birth of a Nation are attacked with scissors. Claudette Colbert (CC3220) and Myrna Loy both tease their nipples in Hollwood milk baths (ML3308), but it is Hedy Lamarr's nude romp in the import Ecstasy (HL3310), along with its depiction of female sexual satisfaction, that is banned in America, marking an end of an era. Cinema nudity will remain banned from the cinema until the rules are pushed back again in the late 1960s. Ironically, the Hayes repression does not stop the maillot from getting sleeker, nor stop the swimsuit from breaking into two pieces, although it does ensure that navels remain obscene.
The loose-fitting one-piece maillot of the 1920s becomes a knitted, closer fitting garment with brighter colors as the decade draws to a close. The tank maillot with skirt and pantalooned variations continues to be the mainstay into the early 1930s, with shoes and hat optional (JH3010), and the legline becoming level with the crotch (JH3230), and staying there.
Throughout the 1930s, the maillot becomes more elastic and molds more to the contours of the body. The tighter fit is coupled with an opening-up of the armhole and cleavage in the neckline, and a daring baring of the back, again, Jean Harlow leads the trend (JH3210). As the back recedes downward, the shoulder straps follow, deepening the armhole and opening up more skin on the side of the torso and breast (JH3320, JH3H10, JH3610). Cleavage (JH3330), often coupled with string straps (JH3H40, JH3580)
One outcome of this trajectory is the haltered maillot, which erupts during the late 1930s. But as the maillot constricts a multiplicity of pressures conspire to reduce it still further. These will include he maillot cutout, which also takes form during the late 1930s, as well as the emerging deux-pièces.
Hayes Code Effects
Bare-midriff costumes survive the early 1930s Hayes restrictions but not without repression. Maureen O'Sullivan, wears a bare-sided leather croptop and loincloth in 1934 (TJ3410-70), but her belly and hip exposures are completely covered up in subsequent movies (e.g., TJ3910-30).
In the years that follow, the stomach opens upward, as Hollywood's finest, like Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady, stand prepared to exhibit themselves in little more than a bra and shorts (JC3310). The bare-midriff, deux-pièces theme is especially popular in the jungle (EB3110-20, CC3301), in ancient Egypt (ZJ3210-30) and lost cities (KB3210), outer space (JR3610), and the dance stage (CB3310).
Thus most of the soutien-gorge and culotte styles of the about-to-emerge deux-pièces swimsuit already exist in the theater and the motion picture. The repertoire of tops included the bra, halter, and bandeau styles, as well as the camisole and the vest. Bottoms included pants, panties, miniskirts, shorts, tap pants, the lower-cut bikini brief, and even the bare-bottomed g-string. These can be worked together in many combinations.
The evolution toward a two-piece swimsuit begins its first murmuring in the first half of the 1930s. In practice, there is no single pathway to the deux-pièces, and the trend is driven from several directions. These include the influences of costumes from the theater, Hollywood (GG3110), cutouts in the maillot, and male chest denudity, which emerges in the late 1920s.
In 1932 French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet extracts these Orientalist influences from the stage and introduces the bare midriff evening dress. It meets limited acceptance but by the following summer shorts, as well as skirts and pants, are being combined with a wide variety of bare midriff blouses, as well as bra, halter, and bandeau styles. The result is the maturation of the bare midriff sunsuit (AN3L50).
Many of these ensembles are for semi-public wearing at the cabana (LA3301), the pool (LA3303), or the resort. And they are primarily for exercise (LA3304), socializing and drinks, and sunning (fig. 7-5). They help establish sunning as an activity in its own right, and sunning, like other specialized activities, demands specialized clothes. The material is typically cotton print or linen, occasionally a knitted wool, although by the end of the decade elasticized fabric, particularly nylon by DuPont, allow a gentle corseted look; nylon is also very easy to dye in bright colors.
Thus one vector toward the bare midriff exposure derives from the tank top and shorts silhouette of the 1920s amplified by the European sunsuit, where the top and the bottom are truly separated.
The First Deux-Pièces
The deux-pièce swimsuit is also hinted at by movie stars, especially Europeans Lilian Bond in the late 1920s (BL2L50) and Lilian Harvey (LH3E50), and a surprisingly daring Carol Lombard in 1931 (CL3150), although the latter is conveniently staged at the star's private pool. The first two piece swimsuit in the movies is often attributed to Dolores Del Rio, whose two piece in In Caliente combine a bulky asymmetrical bra with a skirt slung on the hips (DD3410). Strapless on one side and strapped on the other, it is a design lost until it is rediscovered in the 1980s.
The bare midriff deux-pièces is a disruptive but perhaps inevitable development for the swimsuit. It is inevitable because the steady reduction of the size of the maillot since Annette Kellermann's era finally reaches its limits. Feet, ankles, calves, knees and thighs have been bared; arms, shoulders, and underarms are open to view; Jean Harlow has rendered the maillot backless; and low-cut scoop necklines already display deep cleavage. Because the maillot is a silhouette difficult to reduce in its extremities, the stomach becomes a natural candidate for exposure. Sometimes, as in this costume worn by Ann Sheridan in Murder at the Vanities in 1934, it is hard to tell if one is looking at a dance costume or a swimsuit (AS3420). But the bare belly is advancing rapidly.
The Male Goes Topless
As the female tank evolves from a loose-fitting to a form-fitting garment, so too does the male tank. Like the female swimsuit, the male tank also opens up the armhole and neck, and shortens the leg. By the early 1920s, still looser fitting tank tops allows indiscriminate nipple displays to be viewed from the sides, while retaining shoulder straps (CU2150).
But whereas the female tank suit will evolve toward a cutout and eventually the deux-pièces, the male bares his chest entirely. The male topless battle in America is fought in places like Coney Island, where 18 protestors are arrested in 1929 and fined. But as in so many swimsuit advances, the swimsuit manages to get smaller without the public going ma
The male topless battle rages into the early 1930s. Jantzen is sufficiently concerned about outcomes that it introduces the Topper (JZ3350), a diamond top detachable affair than can keep the nipples covered...or not. It is a zipper which permits the gentleman to prepare for whichever situation is most polite. In the movies Johnny Weissmuller bares his chest in Tarzan (TJ3410-70), and Clark Gable doffs his shirt in It Happened One Night, both in 1934.
Toward the end of the decade Jantzen consolidates the trunks level with the navel in a newer Jockey short fitted-elastic brief (JZ3660, JZ3850.
Male chests might become liberated on the beach, but after 1934, the Hayes Code, Hollywood's official dictum of what is proper to be seen, decrees that male chest hair is vulgar, and orders that barechested males be shaven. And shaven they are (TJ3910-30); this period of slickness lasts into the late 1950s, and it is only with the rough and tumble liberations of the 1960s, when the female also goes topless, that the naturally hairy mail chest again express itself in the cinema. The male navel, as with its female compatriot, remains covered throughout the 1930s and beyond.