Before the 20th century, people who wanted to go swimming in mixed company but keep their modesty would wear bathing costumes that covered nearly as much skin as their regular clothing. In fact, men could be arrested for swimming topless. These are relatively rare in Western culture in the current day, but are still used in cultures where body modesty is considered paramount, such as among Muslims (the style is called a "burqini").
In fiction, these will be seen either in period stories where they're appropriate, or on an individual character to show that he or she is hopelessly old-fashioned, extremely modest, or downright prudish. Stereotypically, the horizontally striped models from between 1900 and 1910 are used (the page image is from 1906), as swimwear started becoming more daring in the 1920s.
Note that in the late 19th century it was often still considered obscene to be seen even in an Old-Timey Bathing Suit
, and beaches installed elaborate bathing machines
to ensure there was no chance of accidentally seeing a woman's legs
from the beach. That made this kind of swimsuit also a porn trope when bathing machines were at their zenith, before mixed gender bathing started to become more acceptable in the 1900s.
Contrast the Barely-There Swimwear
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- Country Time Lemonade Flavored Drink Mix used to have a series of ads with a grandpa who said, "Tastes like good old-fashioned lemonade — not too tart, not too sweet!" One was a Beach Episode, during which he wore one of these.
Anime & Manga
- In The Daughter of Twenty Faces, during the very brief Beach Episode, Tome wears one of these, though it's much more clingy than was the intention of the original artists.
- Ranma ½
- Soun Tendō wears one of these each time they go to the beach, although the rest of the cast wear contemporary bathing suits.
- Miniature Senior Citizens Happōsai and Cologne too. Thank goodness.
- The Wallflower: Sunako Nakahara, being the sort of girl she is, wears a striped Victorian-styled bathing-suit whenever she goes swimming.
- The girls in Zero no Tsukaima wore such bathing suits, and the plot of the Beach Episode centered on the guys getting them into more provocative swimsuits from Saito's world.
- In Ladies Versus Butlers!, Kaoru Daichi is, after much panicking, given one of these by Tomomi for the Beach Episode.
- Dr. Eggman in Sonic X wore one of these in one episode, stripes and all. All things considered, this was probably for the best. See the Fan Disservice page image for why.
- The servants wear some in Black Butler, episode 7. May Linn still manages to bring some Fanservice, though. The anime is set in the late 1800s. Regardless of how much they cover, Maylene's bathing suit still would have been scandalously unmodest for the time.
- Kanade Jinguji in Best Student Council wears such a bathing suit, and even gives one out as a gift. Only her most dedicated fangirl will willingly wear it and Kanade can't quite comprehend why that is.
- Eleanor of Victorian Romance Emma visits the beach in a couple side-stories and can be seen wearing this type of outfit, complete with a mobile changing house. Her maid falls into the water when the house unexpectedly pulls away while she's sitting on the steps.
- Lichtendahl of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is seen wearing one, while everyone else has much more modern bathing suits on. It's eventually revealed that he wore it to cover up the fact that large parts of his body have been replaced by machinery.
- Archie Comics has done a few stories with the gang dressed up in old-timey swimsuits ("bathing costumes"). One story actually had Riverdale transported back in time, and when they went to the beach Veronica was very nearly arrested for wearing a swimsuit where you could see her (gasp!) ankles and shoulders!
- Dupond and Dupont (Thomson and Thompson) wear old-fashioned bathing suits◊ in one of the Tintin stories (though in this case they're not at the beach but in the desert, and think there's a lake in front of them.
- Shows up in The Beano occasionally. If it's done at all recently, you can bet that it'll be someone's parents wearing them, with the kids groaning in shame at the sight.
- A cartoon Whitney Darrow drew for The New Yorker magazine in the 1940's has two men chatting on a beach; the younger one is wearing a modern bathing suit, while the older one has one of these, and is saying "Believe it or not, this is the first vacation I've had in twenty-three years."
Films — Animation
- Anastasia: The Russian imperial family, including Anya herself, is shown wearing these in a dream sequence.
- The Mousekwitz family and Tony Toponi wear these at the end of An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster, implied to take place in the late 1880's.
- Milo accidentally includes a photo of himself wearing this style of swimsuit, plus a goofy-looking inner tube, in a slideshow presentation in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Films — Live-Action
- In Belles on Their Toes, the girls are wearing skirted bathing suits with leggings in 1924, when one-piece suits are starting to become the norm. Mother's is even worse, described as "practically a Gay Nineties model" and able to pass for a circus tent. Martha scandalizes her sisters when she forgets her suit and decides to wear just the underpart of her mother's.
- In Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright, the children borrow bathing suits similar to these from their elderly neighbor Mr. Pindar Payton. At the advice of Mrs. Minnehaha Cheever, Mr. Payton's sister, the two girls wear boys' swimsuits because the girls' version would be rather cumbersome.
- Implied and discussed in Frederik Pohl's multiverse-spanning novel The Coming of the Quantum Cats in which a version of the main male character in one timeline narrates that him going topless whilst swimming is considered daring — he'd be arrested if caught. This goes towards demonstrating that the timeline in question is an Oppressive States of America, dominated by a morally-conservative government influenced by wealthy and powerful Arabs.
- On 30 Rock, Liz prefers one of these when going on a beach vacation.
- The First Doctor imagines himself in one when aliens attempt to read his mind in the Doctor Who serial "The Space Museum".
- On one episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy buys what Ricky assumes is a one-piece swimsuit for Little Ricky. It's actually for Lucy herself. "It stretches."
- Laugh-In features the cast dressed like this for a musical/comedy sketch dealing with the issue of chicken meat being used in hot dogs.
- On The Addams Family, this is the sort of bathing suit Gomez wears while moonbathing.
- An episode of Boardwalk Empire features a woman in 1920 getting a citation for wearing a swimsuit that ends above the knee.
- An episode of Horrible Histories features the Victorian Beach Watch, a pair of lifeguards who take so long getting into their Old-Timey Bathing Suits that they end up failing to save a struggling swimmer. Who was struggling in the first place because his suit was so hard to swim in.
- On How I Met Your Mother, Lily forces Ted to wear a red-and-white striped bathing suit that was hanging as decoration in the hotel they are staying at because Ted and Marshal ruined her dress for a rehearsal dinner.
- Murdoch Mysteries is set in late Victorian period and the turn of the century in Canada. There's a Heat Wave in Toronto in episode "Loch Ness Murdoch" and our characters enjoy a Beach Episode. Lots of lovely beach wear to be admired, worn by both ladies and gentlemen.
- The cover of In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel depicts these.
- The Beatles wore them along with straw boater hats on an early beachside photo shoot.
- The park inspector dons one when evaluating pools in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Soaked!.
- Welkin, protagonist of Valkyria Chronicles, favors the horizontal stripes during the Beach Episode bonus chapter. It's pretty out of style in 1935, but no more than some of the modern-day fashions his troops are wearing. Note that the women in the sequence all wear much skimpier modern suits (except for Eleanor Varrot who thinks herself too old). Leaving miffed fangirls without a Welkin Shirtless Scene.
- In Tales of Symphonia, there's a sidequest in which you can earn swimsuit costumes for some of your party members. Regal's swimsuit is in this style, although not striped... and this despite the fact that Zelos gets a speedo. It could be justified as Tethe'allan fashion being outdated by our current standards, except the others all have modern-style swimwear, and the fact that there are bunny girls in Altamira. Which is where Regal is from and the swimsuit sidequest takes place. Fangirls were a little miffed about this one, too, but it was fortunately corrected in The Anime of the Game.
- One of Zafira's unlockable swimsuits in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny. The other one is a Fundoshi.
- BioShock Infinite has people wearing these in Columbia's Battleship Bay. That's right, the flying city even has a huge artificial lake.
- Cecania from Sore Thumbs wears an early 20th-century swimsuit because her figure is so spectacular the U.S Congress passed a law specifically prohibiting her from wearing anything more revealing to protect public morality.
- Everyone, male and female, wears these in the Beach Episode of Tiny Kitten Teeth except for Mewsli (who wears ordinary trunks). Since the comic is, by all indications, set in the present, this can likely be chalked up to the eccentricities of rich people.
- Phil Foglio's Author Avatar wears one in a bonus strip of Girl Genius. Kaja's Avatar, on the other hand, has different tastes.
- The Order of the Stick - The androgynous (and quite possibly genderqueer) Vaarsuvius wears one in the "Beach Party" wallpaper here.
- As the cast of Pocket Princesses came from movies that took place in the olden days, the princesses frequently wear these types of swimwear.