1932: How Sports Made Skirts Shorter for Women

I generally don’t read or write about fashion. It’s because I feel it is a very intimate thing. To each its own. But we know that the world runs the other way. There are trend setters and the trends change. In the past few years, we’ve seen cinema, film stars and fashion weeks changing the trends drastically. There are a lot more individual store designers than before. But do you wonder where did all the classic clothing come from? As far as we remember, women in the western world for a long time were dressed in long, elaborate (sometimes heavy) gowns.

When and how did they move to short skirts?

I was lucky to find a precious Fashion Anthology from a second-hand bookstore in Mumbai. It is called ‘Fashion’ by Madge Garland and it was published by Penguin in 1964.

Apart from being a lucidly written book about various aspects of women’s fashion, how it evolved, its response in the market, how Paris is the mecca of Fashion, etc; it beautifully talks about ‘How Sports Influenced Fashion’. It has pictures and illustrations too. Here are some of the excerpts:

The most important single influence of fashion during the past half century has undoubtedly been sports. As women began to live more active lives and take part in more sports, so their wardrobe changed drastically, and it might be said with truth that sport influenced clothes even more than fashion influenced sports clothes.

In the 19th century, the out-door pastimes of women were confined to hunting and archery, both of which had their own costumes, or to croquet on the lawn, with tennis for the more emancipated young ladies. How the ladies managed to serve in such clothes, encased as they were in corsets and hampered by high collars, long sleeves, and petticoats, is a painful mystery.


Old Style Tennis Dresses- Long Skirts

But it was on the tennis court and the bathing beach that the immense gulf which separated Edwardian from Georgian girlhood. Like a damn which will hold for so long, and then suddenly bursts its bounds with violence, the pent-up influence of women’s emancipation abruptly made itself manifest; skirts were shortened in 1923, hair shingled in 1924 and the flapper vote achieved in 1928.

Even air travel had an impact on clothing. So did politics and war. But none like sports.

How did the Bikini come into existence?

The general acceptance of sport as part of every woman’s daily life, and the consequent changes in her wardrobe soon accustomed the eye to an exposure of the female form which would have been quite unthinkable in the first decade of the century when Lady Constance Richardson scandalised society by bathing without stockings. The increased tendency to wear the very minimum was reflected in the brief sleeveless and backless dresses of the mid-twenties, which were little more than sports dresses carried out in more elaborate materials.

Bikini first pictures

Today when see our very own Sania Mirza hearing things for her short skirt, we feel embarrassed because it really is about comfort while playing and nothing more.

History can be fascinating if you read the right books. Cheers.


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