For most of history, people wore their everyday clothes to play sports or visit the beach. However, in the late 19th century, special sportswear developed. This clothing was less restrictive than everyday wear, but still covered much more of the body than modern sports clothing. By 1935, sportswear was sleeker and more streamlined. Some clothing originally intended to be worn only during sporting events had also entered mainstream fashion.
Women's swimwear usually consisted of a two-piece halter top and shorts combination, connected by buttons or other fasteners at the waist, or a one-piece suit with a similar shape, made of stretchy material. Men usually wore swim shorts similar to modern ones, but with a higher waist. Elasticated materials were still rare in the 1930s, so suits were more likely to be made from cotton, silk crepe or nylon. Some old-fashioned swimsuits were still made from wool. Out of the water, women wore lightweight summer dresses or "beach pajamas" in silk or nylon crepe. These outfits included trousers and were considered appropriate only for beaches and the promenade, not public wear.
Trousers were appropriate on women for low-activity sports such as golf. They were also seen on skiers, worn with wide-shouldered jackets that sported a boxy shape and cuffed hem. These accommodated sweaters and permitted a wider range of movement. By the mid- to late-1930s, practical slacks were acceptable for women in most sports activities, including fencing, skating, archery and cycling. Their design was usually similar to that of men's slacks, and they were often worn with masculine shirts or blouses.
By the mid-1930s, women wore shorts under light dresses or one-piece shorts and shirt combinations called playsuits. Playsuits usually had a matching skirt worn over the shorts for public wear, which would be removed for the duration of the event. These outfits were common at the beach or at picnics, as well as for active sports. Some women wore shorts alone, according to Fashion Era. In 1932, Alice Marble arrived on the tennis court wearing a blouse and white shorts, but no skirt. By 1935, this outfit was no longer considered outrageous, and would have been common on the courts.
In the early 1930s, men often wore plus-fours, a type of long shorts that extended about 4 inches below the knee. However, these were considered old-fashioned by 1935, and had largely been replaced by slacks for low-activity or cold-weather sports, and by shorts for sports like running. The knit polo shirt and the blazer, originally reserved only for wear during sporting events, became popular casual fashion among men.
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- Fashion Era; 20th Century Sports Dress Fashion History; Pauline Weston Thomas
- Fashion Encyclopedia: Clothing, 1930-45
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- Wearing History; By the Sea -- 1930s and 40s Sportswear and Swimwear Snapshots; August 2, 2010
- Fashion Era; 1930s Fashion History; Pauline Weston Thomas