Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Student Project: Swimwear Ensemble (1910-1930), by Emily Radomski (part 1 of 3)


T&CC 1996.124.8a,b, swimwear ensemble, The Sutcliffe/Sportsmens Clothing, Louisville KY, 1910-1930

Student Projects 2020-2021
This summer on the blog we’ll be highlighting some of the work our students did over the course of the year while enrolled in Jade’s History of Costumes and Textiles and Twentieth Century Fashion Designers classes. These students used objects from the Textile & Costume Collection as a jumping off point for the work you’ll see featured over the next few months. Below is an abbreviated version of the student’s analysis.

Student bio: Hello! My name is Emily Radomski, and I am a soon-to-be junior at Jefferson University working towards achieving my Bachelor of Science in Textile Design. This major is the perfect combination of digital and tactile art, incorporating my love of graphic design and illustration into one concentrated career path. I gravitate towards the knitting and weaving realms of textiles and aspire to pursue a career in home textiles while exploring knit garments in my free time. This re-design project was the perfect segue to this exploration of mine! Click here to view my portfolio. Design Instagram: @emilyradtextiles

Analysis: 1910-1930s Swimwear Ensemble, T&CC 1996.124.8a,b

General Observation

The swimwear ensemble in question is comprised of two separate pieces. The first piece is a tank for the upper body of the wearer, and the second piece is trunks for the lower half of the body. These garments adhere to a simplistic two-color palette of a deep navy blue body with accents of a vibrant red in the form of three stripes toward the bottom hem of the tank and the bottom hem of both legs of the trunks. More specifically, the three stripes include a thick stripe in the middle with a smaller stripe on either side with a navy band separating them.


The simple names of the pieces perfectly describe the silhouette of each part of the swimwear ensemble — tank and trunks. The tank has an elongated torso, with the bottom hem reaching just below the rear when on the body. A high, scooped neckline in the front and straight across neck in the back are features of the tank, along with long armholes that would extend downward a few inches past the underarm. The straps of the tank are about an inch and a half wide, covering very little of the shoulders of the wearer. There is a lack of contoured shaping in this garment, meaning that the width of the garment remains the same throughout the midsection.

T&CC 1996.124.8b

The trunks also apply to the conceptualized silhouette of a boyish figure. The trunks also retain the same width from mid-thigh to the waist, however, the individual legs reduce in width from the crotch area to mid-thigh where they end. They taper closer to the leg’s natural contours starting from the base of the hips/crotch, down to the hem of the trunks.

T&CC 1996.124.8a

The swim tank and trunks are documented as garments intended for male use, however it is debatable what gender this two-piece swimwear set is geared towards, as the structural and aesthetic design of male and female swimwear during the time it was created was very similar, if not the same. Maxine James Johns, graduate of Textiles and Clothing at Iowa State University, noted in her thesis Women’s functional swimwear, 1860-1920, “[B]y 1915, many women in the United States wore functional swimwear at public beaches. It had become fashionable to do so. As more women competed in swimming matches, they may have adopted styles of swimwear that were worn by male competitors” (132). The author also provides the name “tank suit” to this garment, stating it is a tubular knit structure that was most popular with women and men in 1915 (Johns 132).

Stay tuned for our next post which will feature Emily’s amazing modern interpretation of this suit (sneak peak image below).

Works Cited

Alves dos Reis, Marella. “Wool: the unexpected material used in historical swimwear.” The Costume Society, Accessed 28 Mar. 2021, the-unexpected-material-used-in-historical-swimwear

Johns, Maxine James. “Women’s functional swimwear, 1860-1920.” (1997). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 11468. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021

Collection Intern, Textile & Costume Collection, The Design Center, Thomas Jefferson University

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