Seaside History

Going for a Dip in the 1920s

July 24, 2013 | by Nate Burke

Folks in the late 1920s were definitely not afraid to get their feet wet.  This photo shows a crowd of bathers on Seaside’s beach cooling off in the Pacific and horsing around in the surf. Due to limited swimsuit fashions at the time, this crowd could all be mistaken for members of the same swim team.  Dubbed “tank suits” (or “maillots”), these one-piece swimsuits were more like a leotard, made out of a springy, jersey-type material. It’s interesting that there is little difference between male and female suits (accept for the flared skirt-like cut for the female design and one resembling shorts for the men).

One might first surmise that this brand of swimwear was referred to as the “tank suit” due to its uncanny ability to make the human body resemble an armored vehicle. Actually, the tank suit is referred to as such because it was, well, a suit originally worn in a tank (a swimming tank that is – i.e. pool). Nowadays, I’m pretty sure swimming in a tank seems rather absurd (one might imagine an alternate universe where folks have summer tank parties in their back yards!). But the old-timey lingo has stayed with us throughout the years. That American Apparel tank top you’re wearing?  Well, it’s the direct descendant of the tank suits you see here.

Never mind what we wear in the water, though – what we do in the water is far more universal.  The brave souls see how far they can wade out and enjoy confronting the waves in a head-on collision.  These daredevils like the feel of the full majestic power of the ocean as their bodies slice through the incoming breakers. Then there are the more modest folk who are just fine venturing in the ankle deep waters. These conscientious and poetical types tend to revel in those moments where the shallow tide flows back against their feet, gently pulling sand around their exposed legs. One can clearly see that both temperaments are represented here in the late 1920s – and if you head down to Seaside’s beach during high summer this year, I’ll bet you can see the same oceanfront antics.

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