Exposed! The story of swimwear


Image: Peggy Moffitt modelling Rudi Gernreich's topless swimsuit in 1964. Photograph by William Claxton, courtesy of Demont Photo Management (

Movie sirens, aquatic stars, bathing beauties, athletes, sporting icons, swimmers and designers all played their part in the evolution of the modern swimsuit. Blurring the boundaries between underwear and outerwear, the swimsuit continues to make shock waves.

Australian swimwear is placed in a global context, showing how Australian swimmers and swimwear designers responded to their environment, to the strong local swimming and beach culture, and to international fashion trends.

From the 1900s swimwear evolved from hidden, almost medicinal outfits for bathing and soaking to more functional, fashionable garments - and an essential item of leisurewear. Australian designs reflected changes in taste, customs and international trends.

This Australian National Maritime Museum travelling exhibition will explore popular culture, and the designers and personalities who influenced swimwear development. Before 1910 Australia's mermaid Annette Kellerman and her contemporaries created a new modern look, not only for the swimsuit but for women.

Australia's appetite for swimwear created a local industry on the back of a developing knitwear manufacturing base. Speedo, founded as MacRae Knitting Mills in 1914, became a household name for sporting suits from 1929 with its innovative Racer-back design. It remains a dominant brand internationally. Innovations in design and textile technology remain a strong feature of swimwear development.

The exhibition features swimwear from the collections of contemporary Australian designers. One-piece black bathing suits, inspired by the original mermaid Annette Kellerman, were also created by the designers Jets, Seafolly, Tigerlily and Zimmermann especially for this exhibition.

Exposed! The story of swimwear highlights the designs and designers, past and present, at the forefront of Australian swimwear fashion.

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21 August - 7 November 2010 at the Museum's Historic Council Chambers site.

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