The world of women’s bathingsuits, swimming and swimwear developed throughout timewith the expectations of making bathing an enjoyable socialexperience.(Kidwell, 117) While the focus of myadvertisement draws on the bathing accessories womenbought and wore in 1914, it opens up the entire realm ofmorality and modesty in that age. I will touch on the social,political and cultural implications of the advertisement Ichose and ask why things were the way they were not solong ago. While researching this advertisement, I’ve realizedthat everything is relative. No wonder women wore dressesand shoes while swimming.
They weren’t even given thecapability to learn to swim. The expectations from the early1900’s are so different than what they are today that weneed to realize that they were in a completely differentmindset. On the surface, the advertisement I chose is aboutwomen’s bathing accessories, but as we dig deeper, wecan see that it deals with women’s equality.
Women oncewore shoes, hats, and bathing dresses to swim in. Abathing dress alone weighed about 30 pounds when wet,aside from the accessories that women felt obliged to wear.Women were not expected to swim in that attire, they wereexpected to bathe.(Carter, 223) This advertisement forswim accessories at Macy’s was made during a time ofchange. The fact that women were expected to wear all ofthis attire in the water confirms the fact that women werenot expected to swim as of 1914, but instead to bathe forsocial pleasure. Women were starting to learn to swimathletically instead of standing in the watersocializing.
(Kidwell,118) This was not only the turningpoint for women’s clothing and swimwear to become lessrestricting, but also the time for athleticism and for womento stand up for themselves and gain equality. This ad waswritten 6 years before the 19th amendment to the U.S.constitution was ratified, the amendment that gave equalvoting rights to women. Back then, it was illegal for awoman to vote. I guess it doesn’t surprise me that we werewearing dresses in the water. In reality, though, “back then”was only 79 years ago.
America was free but not equal.This poem about female swimmers in the 1920’s written byGrantland Rice depicts the male perception of women’sability as a whole: With the women in their swimmin’Turning Records into wrecks With the ladies raising hadesIn a matter quite complex, With their biceps gettingstronger Where their strides are getting longer In about fourgenerations Who will be the weaker sex?(Kidwell,120) Itsounds like this man is scared that women might somedaygain the same treatment as men. Rice is talking about thephysical characteristics of women, but you can take it onestep farther and see the last 2 lines in the poem as his owninsecurity as to where women would be in four generations,which, ironically, is right now. I am exactly four generationsfrom the man who wrote this poem and it seems completelyabsurd that anyone would say such a thing. If someone toldme to wear shoes, a hat and a dress while swimming, I’dwonder what planet they came from.
In reality, here inAmerica, women were expected to wear those things whileswimming just 85 years ago, right here, not on a differentplanet, or even in a different country. I can’t imaginegrowing up with the expectation that I couldn’t do as well inlife as a man could, or that I couldn’t wear a two-piecewithout people thinking I was walking around in myunderwear. Culturally, the people that grew up in this timedid live on a different planet. When it comes toexpectations and behavior, we are on opposite ends of thespectrum than we were just 85 years ago.
This Macy’s addemonstrates not only the fact that women were not equalto men in the eyes of the law but also the fact that therewere different classes, just as there are today, and thatMacy’s had something for almost anyone’s price range.From my perspective, the social aspect of thisadvertisement leans on the difference between socialclasses. The wealthy women probably wore the expensivefront and side lace shoes that cost $2.24 and the silk andsatin fancy caps or hats that were $3.24 instead of the$0.23 caps and the $0.
29 canvas shoes that the womenwith little money had. The prices seem humorous comparedto the prices you would pay for a pair of shoes today. Thecheapest pair of canvas shoes you could find would beabout $10, ranging from in the hundreds. For a nice pair ofpumps, you could pay anywhere from $20 to thousands ofdollars.
Socially, I think being poor in 1914 was lookeddown upon considerably more than it is today. Thedifferent social classes were not expected to intermingle.Today, people from all different backgrounds, cultures andraces attend the same schools and churches. In conclusion,the only way I can really analyze this advertisement is to putmyself back in that time, but it is impossible to imaginemyself in that position. All I can do is compare the time ofthe advertisement to the present, and wow- it was different.Like I said before- it would be like living on a differentplanet, with a dissimilar culture and very strange rules tofollow. I’ve often wondered if it would have been better tolive back then, but in my perspective, I’m glad I am where Iam on the timeline of eterninty.
Bibliography Carter,Ernestine. The Changing World of Fashion, Putnam,London. 1977 Kidwell, Claudia Brush and Steele, Valerie.Men and Women, Dressing the Part.
SmithstonianInstitution Press, Hong Kong. 1989. Steele, Valerie.Fashion and Eroticism. Oxford University Press.
NewYork. 1985. New York Times.
Advertisement for Macy’s.May-Jun, 1914.