"Girls who can stand in line and look pretty are as numerous as laborers who can swing a pick." --Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie, 1900.
The Gibson Girl
At the turn of the century, the swimsuit becomes more practical...and provocative. It accomplishes this by shedding layers of fabric, trimming away its extremities, and fitting itself more to the body. This vector culminates with the contour of the Gibson Girl (GG0150, GG0550), the hourglass figure silhouette inspired by American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson around 1900.
This is not to say that previous silhouettes don't persist, and the persistence of the bathing dress shortsleeved bloomered (LM0565, PC0720) is seen on many a beach.
Bathing Dress Regression
The first major development after the turn of the century is the elimination of the bloomers of the bathing dress, producing the bathing dress shortsleeved bloomerless silhouette (BG1050). Initially hose is a requisite (GG0150, GG0550), as are shoes (BB0110), but in time the risqué abandon them.
Beyond shedding bloomers, the bathing dress sleeves become shorter. By 1905 the bathing dress has neither boomers nor sleeves, and a new silhouette, the bathing dress sleeveless bloomerless represents the freedom of the new century. The sleeveless permits the armpit to be exposed, and combined with a more open neckline the fabric between the neckline and armhole compresses into a shoulder strap, further baring the shoulder.
The Maillot Pantaloon Perfected
Around 1900 a new kind of swimsuit is introduced which will radicalize swimwear--the maillot pantaloon. It is the product of a more liberal French influence and prone to scandalize. Sleeves, already waning, are abandoned for good, with shortsleeve competing with sleeveless and strapped. More fundamentally, the skirt is done away with, and the subject, now left in her bloomers, discovers them cropped to above knee. Illustrators capture it first, before the turn of the century, carefree and advanced (C189501).
After the century starts it is real models posing in the silhouette we now call the maillot pantaloon, and which is sometimes also called a "French maillot" because it takes a French name.
But in the first decade of the 20th century the maillot pantaloon is seldom ever wet; it is a costume for the faux beach, a background flat blended into the floor and behind and under the model (PC0H60). Venue is always important, even if it is a fixture of a Parisian photo studio. The product is pure pinup media which one hopes does tempt the postal man (VG0H10BS). Like the belly dancer or nude photo model, the maillot swimsuit is completely an object of fantasy...but it is also an object of fantasy which has a resonance in the real world.
These first maillot pantaloons might provide deep cleavage, a legline is cropped well below the crotch on mid-thigh, bare knees and hose if any controlling the calves, ankles and feet. Bare legs and feet is the most shameless (PC0H40). The maillot pantaloon also drawn to the crotch and the pubic area because the garment molds to these regions (as well as the hips, which seldom appear in these views). It can be like stripes painted onto the body. All these regions are no longer hidden under a layered overskirt.
Thus it appears that the pinup is baring legs and feet, and sometimes with not all that much pantaloon (VG0E30_4325). The styling being set in will set trends for decades to come and resonate with Kellerman's exploits of the late oughts that involve wearing the maillot to a real beach.
Sometimes young dandies flirt with the maillot pantaloon girls on faux beaches (PC0H42, and even steal kisses (PC0HA0). This stumpet wears a tight-fitting maillot pantaloon with black hose, shoes, and a hat, but the garter tells the whole story (PC0H30).
Although leg is the lead story, breasts, already a well established erogenous zone (prior to the swimsuit in fact), will remain playful. The mainstream tank top is sleeveless with a scalloped neck, wide straps, and no internal support. More extreme than this basic design, especially in pinup literature, are necklines with deeper décolletage, tanks with oversized armholes, with string-strap styles sometimes falling off the shoulder (GB0550), on the road off to strapless and that....
Maillot pantaloon is not really respectable in 1900, nor 1905, nor even in the decade after, even coupled with hose, which they frequently are. Sleeveless, with scalloped tank top necklines, a legline well below the crotch, the new clinging knit swimsuit is a daring look. So are lacings up the side of the maillot (PC0E60). The maillot will remain a stable of the pinup and later, the movie star. When it comes time, mainstream will move in a similar direction, but modified.
The Flesh-Colored Body Unitard
The swimsuit of the early oughts resonates, as will explain elsewhere, with the French Musical Theater, the chorus girl, and in the years ahead on the American the follies of Minsky and Ziegfeld.
In Paris especially nudity was a driving element in showmanship, and on both sides of the Atlantic and England nudity in the theater was regulated depending upon motion, toplessness, and leggage.
After the turn of the century and in the first years of the oughts, at the same time the faux beach emerges there emerges the flesh-colored body stocking, what we would official term a pink unitard and which in slang is called a pinkie.
The pinkie emerges as a significant factor during the run-up to the First World War. It is an alternate to nudity, and although there is no shortage of nudity in painting and photographs, nudity and movement on stage and by stars demands more digression. For example stage acts include the tableau vivant, in which players are nude but don't move.
The faux nudity of the flesh-colored body stocking provides another alternative. The pinkie is a costume of stars who don't want to brave nudity for picture postcards, like Nina Barkis (PC0HB0) and Ninette D'Arville (PC0630). But it is also posed by unnamed thespians and diving girls (PC0H01). Here a faux nude takes a faux bath (PC0H90).