Both men and women were expected to observe strict rules when it came to swimwear on public beaches in the U.S. Casual male bathers were required to wear skirts from 1910 to 1940. Police trawled the beaches, on the lookout for men who weren’t wearing skirts over their bathing trunks, or for women exposing too much leg. These policemen carried rulers. Seriously.
An article in the New York Times from August 1st, 1920, reported that police went in search of people in violation of a new ordinance passed in Long Island–this one was a ban on one-piece bathing costumes. (Bathers of both sexes were supposed to wear a long top over their bottom trunks—not the scandalous one-piece, body-revealing fashion). The article breathlessly reported that approximately 25 percent of female bathers appeared “stockingless, and perhaps half of that number were also shoeless.” The police on the lookout for violators found just one person in a one-piece (a four year old child), but “experts in bathing attire pointed out countless one-piece suits to which had been added a frill or tiny drop skirt, which saved their wearers from the police.” The article goes on to report that “The men bathers gave the police far more trouble than the fairer sex. More than fifty men were forced by the police to refrain from tucking the shirts of their suits beneath the trunks.”