Since the early 1900s, Bondi Beach has existed through various depressions, two world wars and various swimwear trends.
But it wasn’t always above-the-knee board shorts, meditation miles, $50 iced long blacks and butchers that cook your grass-fed beef for you. Before all this, there was a time where people used to cover up with clothes rather than sunscreen.
Enter: the following photo, posted in December on the @smharchives Instagram account, and credited to an unknown photographer, who took the image on a busy day at Bondi Beach in November 1929.
The photo shows suits being worn on the beach, as well as a lot of one pieces and clothes with sleeves. As an article by Tim Barlass, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, recently explained, in 1929 swimwear standards had already relaxed a little bit. Going back another 40 odd years before that, and you weren’t allowed to display bare flesh.
Barlass cites the caption of an image taken at Bondi Beach sometime between 1889 and 1894, by Henry King, which reads: “Beachgoers at Bondi Beach c1889-1894 and the Borough of Waverley bylaw declared: ‘Any person who, except in a public bath and proper bathing dress, shall bathe near to or within view of any inhabited house, reserve, or place of public resort, between the hours of 8 o’clock in the morning and 8 o’clock in the evening, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding five pounds nor less than five shillings.’”
He then explained that proper dress in 1896 according to Waverley library was as follows: “The tunic is cut almost to the knees. A wide frill forms the sleeves and trims the top of the jacket. Full knickers drawn in at the knee and wide frills complete the costume.”
In fact, comparing the above photo (1960) with the below photo (2021), there doesn’t seem to be that huge of a difference.
One difference social media users have pointed out regarding ‘then and now’ on Instagram (on the @smharchives page) are the lack of tattoos in the old photos. Another noticeable difference is that in 2021 people are more prone to wearing their beachwear off the beach and on the street.
Another difference, according to photographer Amaury Treguer, who has been shooting pictures at Bondi since 2011, is that people have started embracing European style trunks and swim shorts in the last ten years.
“Swimwear fashion has definitely changed,” he told DMARGE. “I remember back in 2009, I was one of the only ones to wear European cut swimmers (Sundek, Gili’s, Hartford, Orlebar Brown…) Even when I was surfing while most guys would wear long boardshorts (Quicksilver, RipCurl…).”
“You could almost recognise Europeans just by their swimwear and toothpick morphology compared to Aussie. Now, most men are wearing Venroy, Orlebar Brown and so on. Speedos and Budgees have always been there, I still don’t get it, unless you are swimming down at the Bergs or Ocean.”
Another potential difference is activewear, and people working out in and around the beach.
Video: Watch The History Of Activewear In The Clip Below
Bondi has also, as DMARGE has previously reported, developed a bit of a reputation, and in the process become a bit of a punching bag for Australian media outlets. The go-to line? It’s a bougie, oblivious, overpriced suburb of people who only ever leave to go to Byron Bay or Noosa.
Though some of that may be true, some reckon Bondi is more unique than its detractors would have you believe. Where else could you find the same mix of budget luxury?
Also, while some of Bondi’s defiant reputation is deserved, much of it is overhyped.
Convinced not everyone who lives in the Eastern Suburbs is a smug bastard, DMARGE (back in 2020) called Dr Lars Madsen, a clinical psychologist who sits on the board of the mental health charity The Mindshift Foundation, to understand the psychology of living in Bondi.
Lars told us: “What we know is that as people we are affected by other people – we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people no matter whether we like it or not, in one way or another.”
“If you’re in a culture or environment where you have a lot of high achieving people dressing in a particular way or talking about things in a particular way, we will seek to align ourselves to them,” Lars said.
“The same way if you’re in a culture where people are taking drugs, drinking alcohol, not working, we kind of drift that way as well in terms of our attitudes – there’s lots of psychological research that shows that [this] happens – the environment affects people’s behaviour.”
“People will gravitate to the norm of that mindset and the people around them.”
Another interesting point, which DMARGE has previously explored, is that – though there are some obvious pitfalls to some of the cliché, peacocking, Bondi attitude (which, as we’ve said, doesn’t actually exist in quite the levels you might think), there are also some upsides to the actions of individuals who fancy themselves ahead of the curve (or who have the courage to stand out).
Take for instance the meditation mile we wrote about last year. This unfairly maligned trend, if you’re cynical, could look like just more Eastern Suburbs residents showing off (this time their wellness skills instead of their muscles). But actually it’s positive – it could also be evidence that people are becoming less sensitive to the stigma that unfortunately comes with actively looking after your mental health.
There you have it – swimwear isn’t the only thing that’s changed in Bondi this side of the century.