Making Whoopee

As in our own time, styles did not change overnight from one day to the next between the 1910s and the 1920s. Bathing suits popular during the second decade of the 20th-century disappeared in the 1920s by degrees as they were worn out or their owners decided to replace them with new, up-to-date designs. The exuberance of the 1920s was manifested in the array of colors and applied decorative details that abounded on bathing suits, especially at the beginning of the decade.

Despite increasingly liberal attitudes in the 1920s the battle to liberate women, and to a lesser degree men, from conservative legislation that restricted how much of their arms and legs they could display on the beach was far from won.

Developed by Guest Curator, James Hanley

Please scroll through the timeline below.

Indicates what can be viewed at The Bryan Museum

Indicates Galveston History

  • Newsboy Cap

    Paperboy Caps or Flat caps were very common for North American and European men and boys of all classes during the early 20th century and were almost universal during the 1920s, particularly among the working ‘lower’ classes. A great many photographs of the period show these caps worn not only by newsboys, but by dockworkers, high steel workers, shipwrights, costermongers, farmers, beggars, bandits, artisans, and tradesmen of many types.

    *On view at The Bryan Museum
  • Harper's Bazaar Magazine

    In the 1920s, a magazine wrote in praise of Kellerman’s swimsuit: “Annette Kellerman Bathing Attire is distinguished by an incomparable, daring beauty of fit that always remains refined.”- Harper’s Bazaar (vol. 55, no. 6, p. 138)

    As a result, women’s swimwear had come a long way in 13 years.

  • Women's Bathing Suit Evolution

    Bathing suits popular during the second decade of the 20th-century disappeared in the 1920s by degrees. They were worn out or their owners decided to replace them with new, up-to-date designs.

  • Custom Bathing Suits

    Individuals made their own bathing suits. As a result, changes began at the start of the decade. The exuberance of the 1920s was manifested in the array of colors and decorative details.

  • Men's Bathing Suit Evolution

    Men’s swimwear during the 1920s became lighter due to improved knitting technology. However, their wool suits still weighed as much as eight pounds and could sag and cling with embarrassing results. Modesty was required of men as specified in the “Bathing Suit Regulations” published on May 17, 1917. According to these laws, men’s suits had to be worn with a skirt or have at least a skirt effect and the skirt had to be worn outside of the trunks. The other alternative available to men was flannel knee pants with a vest and a fly front.

    One-piece suits prevailed. Shorts were attached to a tank-like top that covered the legs of the bathing suits. Swimwear took on a sleeker appearance than the bathing suits worn in the 1910s although they remained sober in terms of color and decoration. Occasionally bathing suits were “trimmed” in stripes at the bottom edge of the skirt.

  • Galveston’s First Beach Revue

    Contestants in Galveston’s first Beach Revue in 1920.
    Image courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation
  • Swim Suit Laws

    Despite increasingly liberal attitudes in the 1920s, the battle to liberate women was far from won. The conservative legislation restricted women on how much of their arm and leg could be displayed at the beach.

    Bathing Suits must not be over six inches above the knee. Police were charged with enforcing laws and would arrest offenders if they failed to comply with restrictions.

  • Beach Police Modesty Check

    Eventually, changing mores, and pressure from the public, resulted in the repeal of outmoded modesty laws.

  • Galveston’s Third Beach Revue

    Contestants in the Beach Girl Revue.
    Galveston, Texas, May 14th, 1922.
    (Joseph M. Maurer Library of Congress)
    *On view at The Bryan Museum
  • Kellerman's Water Ballet

  • Shoes and Stockings

    Shoes and stockings continued to be popular on beaches during the 1920s. In the case of stockings, they took on decidedly sexier overtones. Hard as it is to believe pumps were common as were flat cloth shoes and foot coverings resembling ballet slippers. Shoes would remain popular in the 1930s.

  • Parasols

    The parasol became an indispensable accessory for fashionable women. Although elegant fabric parasols were used commonly in the 19th-century, to shield ladies from the effects of the sun, a type new to America, made from bamboo and paper or silk, and imported from the Far East, came into vogue at this time.

  • Decorated Parasols

    These parasols were affordable, colorful, and versatile. These were available in a range of sizes, they were adorned with paintings of flowers, butterflies, peacocks, mythological beasts, and geometric patterns.

    The variety of parasols appeared everywhere; in fashion photographs, on posters, magazine covers, in the hands of silent film stars, and in innumerable casual snapshots.

    *On view at The Bryan Museum
  • Beach Hats

    Women traded in the dowdy mop caps, and other less fashionable beach hats worn in previous decades for berets, fitted caps, and the ubiquitous headscarf.

  • Turban Style Beach Hats

    To achieve a flattering effect with the scarves as hats, instructions like these appeared in publications during the period.

  • Unisex Bathing Suit

    Men and women’s swimsuits, especially later in the decade, were essentially unisex in their styling. They stretched to the contours of the body as needed. The major difference between them was that the men’s bathing suits were cut lower on the sides and in the back.

    *On view at The Bryan Museum
  • Film

    Copy of an ad for the 1926 film Summer Bachelors from the publication The Film Daily

  • Makin' Whoopee

    Makin’ Whoopee” is a jazz/blues song, first popularized by Eddie Cantor in the 1928 musical Whoopee! The title refers to celebrating a marriage. Eventually “making whoopee” became a euphemism for intimate sexual relations. The song has been called a “dire warning”, largely to men, about the “trap” of marriage. “Makin’ Whoopee” begins with the celebration of a wedding, honeymoon, and marital bliss, but moves on to babies and responsibilities, and ultimately on to affairs and possible divorce, ending with a judge’s advice.

  • Sam Foster's Sunglasses

    Modern, mass-produced sunglasses were marketed for the first time in 1929. Introduced to the public by a man named Sam Foster they were sold under the name “Foster Grant” at a Woolworth’s store on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Foster’s shades soon became a hot fashion item and an indispensable accessory. Initially adopted by movie stars and celebrities, sunglasses became a “must-have” on America’s beaches. The original version was unisex and featured round lenses. They retained this shape well into the 1930s.