Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.4, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.7, W.6-8.4, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Culture • Time, Continuity, and Change • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions


What’s Going On Here?

This photo tells a story from an important period in American history. Can you use clues from the image to figure it out?

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1. In the early 1900s, American women had to wear long bathing dresses and cover their legs with stockings at the beach. 

2. Women gained the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920. They continued to push for more freedoms—like new ways to dress and express themselves.

3. The decade that followed­—known as the Roaring Twenties—was a time of great wealth and social change, yet women still faced barriers. 

Keep reading to get the full story behind this photo! 

The Story Behind the Photo

Have you heard of the “fashion police”? Well, they really existed! This photo shows a local official measuring the length of a woman’s swimsuit along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., in June 1922. Back then in the nation’s capital, swimsuits were expected to cover much of a woman’s legs. If there was more than 6 inches between the swimsuit and the knee, a woman could be fined—or even arrested!

For decades, women had worn long bathing dresses and stockings. But as swimming became more popular as a sport, they began to seek out more practical suits—with less fabric to weigh them down in the water. Local officials pushed back with rules on how short such swimwear could be. 

Around the same time, the country was going through dramatic changes. Women gained the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment, and millions of them worked outside the home. The nation’s wealth was increasing. More people lived in cities than on farms, and they were spending money and embracing new fashions, dances, and entertainment.  

As attitudes shifted, swimsuit rules did too. By the 1930s, styles had evolved and fewer swimwear restrictions were enforced.

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