Backward Glance - Fashions on the beach
  • Friday 07 February 2020

The elixir of life transformed and the atmospheric conditions ruling elsewhere forgotten as sweltering, humidity-distressed individuals found they could easily change the uncomfortable feeling to a more genial one when arriving within the precincts of the beach.

Life began again and the former inertness was galvanised into activity as one sighted the tempting surf, and the frolics of those who engaged the oncoming rollers to dash beneath them, to emerge whole, or having experienced a “dumper” which set them into a whirl of perpetual motion for a time, at least. This was the scene described in the Nambour Chronicle, December 1938.

It was in the 1800s that people began to flock to the beaches for seaside amusement and the Sunshine Coast was no exception. With the construction of the railway and better roads, the Coast became even more popular for sunny escapes. Along with this pastime came the need for stylish garments for the fashion conscious ladies and gents.

In 1933 the Lady Mayoress aroused great controversy with her announcement that she would be donning slacks for holiday wear at Caloundra. Vehement criticism was vented that it was physically and morally wrong for women to wear masculine attire. A critic of the fashionable mode further added that if the sterner sex paraded in women’s attire they would render themselves liable to prosecution. However, despite all the criticism, the Lady Mayoress held the conviction that “slacks” were quite adaptable for beach wear and she would continue to wear them.

At this time wearing shorts was rumoured to be taboo on Caloundra beaches with the exception of “young blossoms” under the age of 21 years.

In 1935 such were the protests regarding some men who were rolling up their costumes so the rays of the sun may strike their chests and some women who wore rather short coverings, the Minister for Local Government in New South Wales, Mr E S Spooner, after careful consideration, issued a ukase that bathing costumes which did not cover the front of the body nor have legs less than three inches in depth must not be worn.

The outrage continued locally as well, with the subject of men wearing trunks being the topic of debate at a Landsborough Shire Council meeting in August 1937. The council issued a dictum that bathers at Caloundra beaches shall wear two piece costumes only, with the life savers acting as beach inspectors.

While debate raged in political circles, the Nambour Chronicle published articles about harmonising the general colour scheme of the beach outfit. In 1935, one of the most unusual styles of bathing suit was the “dressmaker” fashioned of gaily coloured cotton crepon with firmness being provided for the figure by an interlining of wool jersey material and a cape fashioned out of the same material.

Wool was the most popular material with suits being trimmed with nautical ornaments such as embroidered anchors, seahorses and wheels. Cellophane and Lastex were among the materials used to fashion the very newest of suits. Beach hats were larger than ever in multi-coloured shades with contrasting bands and stitching.

The 1935-36 beach frocks were very smart and said to be the most appealing ever with most being backless and some with halter necklines, and beach pyjamas having considerably changed. Shoes were toeless and made of finely striped canvas.

In December 1936, wearing tinted glasses was promoted to save many a headache due to the glare of the sun. These glasses should have coloured rims to match your bathing suit, sandals or your beach umbrella.

By 1938, everyone had a beach kit. Beach clothes must be full of colour – white was okay but must be splashed with the most vivid colours and patterns you could find. Bathing suits consisting of shorts and a brassiere top were popular with the top being low cut at the back with straps that tied in little bows on the shoulders.

Many smart women were wearing a triangle of material matching their beach suits around their head, but equally fashionable were shady hats of Mexican straw with crowns rising to a point and finishing at the top with a posy of flowers or a pair of pompoms. New styles of shoes with cork soles nearly four inches high came into fashion. However, they did not keep the sand out of your toes and were not very easy to wear if you looked forward to playing energetic beach games.

1940 saw the short skirted bathing suit become popular with the neckline and turban being decorated with rubber flowers in a new idea that had many devotees. The beach outfit should be matching – the cap in harmony with the suit, towel, wrap and if possible the beach mattress and umbrella.

In 1945, debate again raged in the Landsborough Shire Council decreeing that Caloundra beaches were to be closed to “handkerchief” bathers or attire designated French bathing costumes. Persons scantily robed will be regarded as creating an offence against the council’s by-laws and tender themselves liable for prosecution.

Summertime on the beach in the 1950s saw the swimsuit become more about fashion rather than swimming. The bikini became an option and swim caps came back into vogue with rubber flowers or petals over the entire cap.

By 1971 bikinis in fabulous prints and colours dominated the Sunshine Coast beach fashion scene – crocheted wool bikinis, cover ups and hot pants were all popular.

The years have rolled on and beach fashion has evolved from the 1800s when your old clothes were worn to the beach.

Thanks to the Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.