Swimsuit, women's, wool, made by David Jones Limited, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1921, worn by Loretta (Laurie) Quick, Balmoral, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1921
This neck-to-knee swimsuit reminds us of the time, in the early 20th century, when Australians' enjoyment of the beach was marred by prohibitions on mixed bathing and bathing during daylight hours, and by laws relating to appropriate beachwear. This official prudishness was reflected in styles of swimwear that covered much of the body.
By the 1920s and 1930s these moral injunctions were relaxed. The growing popularity and acceptability of sea bathing, combined with the belief that exercise and exposure to the sun held health benefits, saw the voluminous bathing suits of the early century replaced with a range of increasingly revealing and fashionable swimwear styles.
Laurie Quirk's swimsuit lies on the cusp of these changes, combining a revealing silhouette with neck-to-knee coverage of the body. It is a little out of date for the early 1920s and might have been purchased earlier than this date, or it could reflect the modest disposition of the wearer. Born in Sydney in 1885, Loretta Mary (Laurie) Quirk was the daughter of Irish immigrants and the youngest of ten children. She purchased this swimsuit from Sydney department store David Jones and wore it in a family photograph dated to the summer of 1921-1922. (The photograph is also held by the Powerhouse Museum.) Photographs of David Jones shop window displays from the 1920s show that swimwear was a popular and extensive part of its clothing range.
The swimsuit is manufactured in a quite heavy knit wool and features a label that indicates the fibre has been treated with a shrinkproof finish, an early example of wool fibres being treated to improve their performance. By the 1920s most commercially produced swimwear was made in lighter, finer wool, cotton and rayon jerseys. This heavy wool would have proved less revealing than these lighter weight textiles and again might have been selected by the owner to provide more modest coverage.
Catherine Reade, assistant curator, 2007
In 1908, the introduction of Ordinance 52 of the Local Government Act forced Sydney bathers to wear neck-to-knee costumes and additional clothing while on the sand. This costume demonstrates the modest style of women's swimwear that complied with the ordinance. Australians began to wear more revealing swimwear from the late 1920s, leading to an official relaxation of the ordinance in 1935.
Manufactured at the David Jones clothing factory in Marlborough Street, Surry Hills, this costume is made from a woollen fibre developed with a new technology to prevent shrinking. It required special care and had to be shaken, not wrung, to remove excess water.
Born in Sydney in 1885, Loretta Mary (Laurie) Quirk was the daughter of Irish immigrants and the youngest of ten children. She purchased this swimsuit from Sydney department store David Jones around 1921 and wore it in a family photograph dated to the summer of 1921-1922. The photograph is also part of this collection.
After caring for her parents in the family home, Quirk moved to 'Jerpoint' flats at 51 Spit Road, Mosman and possibly swam at nearby Balmoral Beach. Although she never married, she enjoyed an active life with her extended family and spent her final years in Montana Nursing Home, Mosman. Laurie Quirk died in 1982, and her niece donated the costume and accompanying photograph to the Powerhouse Museum.