Monday, July 05, 2010

Scenes from 'the war against legs', 1928.

Given the heatwave that seems to have struck parts of western Europe recently, it's entirely appropriate that I ran across the following article today, which I originally discovered while researching a debate about police powers in the late 1920s.

Critics Shocked by Scanty Dress of Bathing Girls

Protests from Seaside and River: New Job for the Police

Special to “Reynolds’s”

Women’s dress—or, rather, the lack of it—is again a subject of excited discussion.

“Leg-mania” has arrived with the heat wave. One cannot be quite sure all the time, whether it is the effect of the heat on those who show their legs, or on those who criticise them.

Here is the latest list of places whence rise woeful protests at the display of the “female form divine.”

Arizona (where the wild men are)

In each centre the war against legs is being carried on with different tactics. In Arizona, for instance, where they don’t trust these matters to Watch Committees, the youths of the town declare that it is a “fight to the finish.” But in Southend the police have been ordered to keep a watch on girl bathers.

Did somebody say that the policeman’s lot was not a happy one?

This problem of legs has been in the public eye for a long time—since skirts showed a tendency to end soon after they began—but its present acute form began a few days ago, when a Thames Conservancy official ordered a boating party to put on more clothing.

A high official then stated: “We are not censorious of proper university costumes, but there are people who like to be a little daring and go to the extreme.”

Some of those people have been boating around Hampton Wick evidently, for this is what happened when the Joint Committee of the Port of London Authority met.


Mr. G. Hammerton drew attention to what he called the “indecent clothing” worn by men and women on the river during the weekend.

“It was simply disgraceful, especially at Kingston Regatta, where parties were in the scantiest of bathing costumes making a disgraceful exhibition of themselves,” he declared.

Mr. W. Sanger attacked the modern two-piece bathing costume, and Mr. H. Hewitt, the Conservator, agreed that the scenes were very bad, particularly on Sunday.

Mr. Hammerton asked if the Thames Conservancy had any jurisdiction in the mater or was it one for the police.

The chairman, Mr. T. Ryan, said that no harm had been done by raising the matter, but he thought it sufficient if the Conservator informed the Conservancy that the matter had been discussed by that committee.


Mr. Sanger said that the members sitting round the table were all over a certain age, and therefore did not appreciate the mode of attire worn by those who frequented the river, especially in the hot weather. He wanted to know who the people were who complained about the dress.

Then up spake Mr. R. H. Berry. Like a chivalrous knight of old, he sprang to the defence of the fair ones in distress.

“I admire a well-shaped figure in a bathing costume,” he said.

Mr. Berry added that he was on the river during the week-end, and he saw a man, his wife, and children all in bathing costumes, and it was a very pretty sight.
Many will say, “Bravo, Mr. Berry!”


And now the scene moves to Southend. The following message was received from “Reynolds’s” correspondent last night—

The way in which girl bathers undress and dress themselves on the cliffs and on the beach at Southend-on-Sea, many of them without any attempt at secrecy, has offended the susceptibilities of some members of the Town Council.

Alderman Martin urged that steps ought to be taken without delay to put an end to the practice.

It is no uncommon thing, whilst walking along the beach by the pier, to encounter girls and young women donning or removing their bathing costumes with no tent or bathing wrap to conceal them from the public view.

Similarly, on the cliffs between the pier and Westcliff, they can be seen at week-ends divesting themselves of their ordinary attire on the grassy slopes and preparing themselves for the sea below.

In some cases, cars parked on the sea front serve the purpose of bathing huts.

The trouble is especially bad at weekends, when large numbers of trippers come down from London.

The police have been ordered to keep a watch for especially bad cases.

That the leg problem is as disturbing in America as it is here is revealed by the news that the men in the University of Arizona have decided to “shame” their girl colleagues into wearing more clothes. This is how a New York paper prints this exciting bit of news:

“Tuscon (Ariz.).—‘Steady there, young feller, jes’ keep your shirt on.’
The classic cry of the country constable echoes now on the University of Arizona campus. First, the girls took off their stockings and the lordly males took off their shirts in protest.

’Sfact! The sun-tanned, clear-eyed beauties of these windswept spaces recently took up the latest collegiate fad. Merrily pulling off their stockings, they came to class with bare brown limbs flying in the morning breeze.

The strong, silent men of the sun-baked plains regarded them with steady, level gaze and then muttered some collegiate equivalent of ‘That’s plum disgraceful, pardner.’

Wherefore, reprisals were started. When as and whenever a brown and fetching calf went flitting across the campus that soon were manly limbs exposed for all to see.

From assembly hall to dormitory went the call, ‘To arms!—and ribs and chests and backs—for modesty and for shame.’"

So that’s that. And now for Paris.


A late Reuter telegram from the French capital says that a strong pronouncement against modern fashions has been made by the Bishop of St. Brieuc (Brittany), who protests against what he describes as the growing immodesty of women and girls, and even children.

The Bishop forbids any woman with bare arms, legs, or shoulders, or with too short a skirt, and even boys with shirts open too low at the neck, to enter any church or presbytery in his diocese.

Perhaps, after all, it is time this heat wave ended.

Reynolds's Illustrated News, 22 July 1928, p. 18.

Keep cool, people.

(The historical bycatch series.)

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