“Sunday and the Dress Parade on the Venice Promenade: Oh Dear Me!”

Before Grace Kingsley was the film editor, she wrote human interest stories for the Los Angeles Times including one about the effects of a new ordinance forcing people to cover up their swim suits when they weren’t in the water at Venice Beach. The Board of Trustees had passed it just in time for the July 4th weekend in 1911. According to an earlier article in the Times, it was in response not to what women were wearing because “it has never been charged that any lady has shocked the pier by appearing in bathing skirts which did not reach the knees” but to the male nuisances:

It is said that the new ordinance is called forth especially to protect residents of Venice from the unpoetic view of numbers of male bathers sprawled in their inartistic short suits upon the sands too near the cement promenade which stretches its sunny mile between Venice and Ocean Park. The men’s suits are sleeveless, neck-less and practically legless. They are nothing more than trunks with chest protector attachment.

The F.B. Silverwood department store ran this ad the day after the ordinance passed.

Oh dear me indeed. Kingsley went to the beach on the Fourth of July to observe first-hand the “weird procession of sad bathers” and reported, “they looked like a bunch of masqueraders that had been left out all night.” Then she gave us some specifics:

  • A chubby party of about 50—a well-known wholesale grocer, by the way—got a cute effect from his wife’s pink kimono garnished with baby ribbons.
  • And who is this cowled and robed person? A priest or doge of old Venice? Nay, nay. He’s a fat real estate broker in that domino suit he wore to his wife’s party last spring.
  • Here are some fashion hints, however. Really fat gentlemen should avoid red and white checked tablecloth effects. I saw one such. He should have used the sumptuous striped portieres, instead.
  • A little spider of a girl primly divested herself of a red sweater that came to her waist, and dipped her toes in the briny.
  • There seems to be some doubt as to what the law intended to cover, for one lady came out with a bath-towel fig leaf, and a man appeared in a huge bathrobe, high boots and only his eyes showing, while a gentleman of noble bearing, well known in City Hall circles, swung nobly down to the twenty-five foot limit with his bathrobe draped over his shoulder like a Roman toga!

However, as Kingsley noted, nobody measured the twenty-five foot limit or particularly bothered to enforce the law. This was Venice, after all, not some old-fashioned place. Eventually, everybody just forgot about it. The next year, the L.A. Herald reported on some civic-minded ladies who rounded up Venice bathers to go vote in a school trustee election (women had gotten the right to vote in California in 1911) and they ran a photo of two voters in swimwear, unencumbered by cover-ups, hopping into a car to visit their polling place.

Mr. and Mrs. G.M. Nichols, leaving the beach to vote.

In June 1912, the Board had given up on cover-ups and passed an ordinance on the length of swimwear (14 inches below the waist for women, knee-length for men)– but that’s a story for another day.

Venice Beach, 2016 — no bath-robes, but the same sand, sun and surf

Happy Fourth of July!

Sources: Los Angeles Herald, June 13, 1911; April 6, 1912. Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1911; June 20, 1911; July 5, 1911; June 26, 1912.

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