Blame modern civilization for the swimsuit—Victorian England outlawed naked swimming in 1860. In pre-industrial times everyone skinny dipped. Who would bother getting clothes wet? Especially before the days of fast-drying Lycra.
Early swimsuits favored prudishness over practicality. Made from hideous stiff canvas or flannel, they were cut for maximum concealment. Women’s bathing gowns had lead weights sewn into the hem to keep them from floating (the gowns, not the women, though one wonders how many drownings resulted). A wet swimsuit weighed 30 pounds.
Thankfully, by the 1930s, North America had begun turfing its beach censors, whose job it had been to enforce “neck to knees” coverage.
Receding tan lines have since closely followed the flourishing of liberal democracy. Under Franco, Spain’s fascists shut down nude beaches. At the height of the fight against Hitler, people went bananas for the bikini in America. Scandinavia, that paragon of liberalism, is…
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