"Skinny dip" redirects here. For other uses, see Skinny dip (disambiguation).

Skinny dipping is the practice of swimming naked, whether in natural bodies of water, swimming pools or hot tubs. Today, most nude swimming takes place in private swimming pools, at nude beaches, at naturist facilities, or at segregated public swimming areas. Some countries of Europe have no laws prohibiting nude swimming in public areas, but some countries around the world strictly enforce various laws against public nudity, including nude swimming.

The term "skinny dip" was first recorded in English in 1947.[1]


Pre-19th century

In the United Kingdom until the mid-19th century there was no law against nude swimming, with each town being free to make its own laws. For example, the Bath Corporation official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed, for men:

It is Ordered Established and Decreed by this Corporation that no Male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a Pair of Drawers and a Waistcoat on their bodies.[2]

In rivers, lakes, streams and the sea men swam in the nude, where the practice was common. Those who didn't swim in the nude, stripped to their underwear.

Female bathing costumes were derived from those worn at Bath and other spas. It would appear that until the 1670s nude female bathing in the spas was the norm and that after that time women bathed clothed. Celia Fiennes gave a detailed description of the standard ladies' bathing costume in 1687:

The Ladyes go into the bath with Garments made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen, it does not cling close as other linning, which Lookes sadly in the poorer sort that go in their own linning. The Gentlemen have drawers and wastcoates of the same sort of canvas, this is the best linning, for the bath water will Change any other yellow.[3]

The Bath Corporation official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed, for women:

No Female person shall at any time hereafter go into a Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a decent Shift on their bodies.[2]

The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker was published in 1771 and its description of ladies’ bathing costume is different to that of Celia Fiennes a hundred years earlier:

The ladies wear jackets and petticoats of brown linen, with chip hats, in which they fix their handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their faces; but, truly, whether it is owing to the steam that surrounds them, or the heat of the water, or the nature of the dress, or to all these causes together, they look so flushed, and so frightful, that I always turn my eyes another way.[4]

Penelope Byrde points out that Smollett’s description may not be accurate, for he describes a two-piece costume, not the one piece shift or smock that most people describe and is depicted in contemporary prints. His description does, however, tally with Elizabeth Grant’s description of the guide’s costume at Ramsgate in 1811. The only difference is in the fabric the costumes are made of. Flannel, however, was a common fabric for sea bathing costumes as many believed the warmer fabric was necessary in cold water.[5]

In the 18th century women wore "bathing gowns" in the water; these were long dresses of fabrics that would not become transparent when wet, with weights sewn into the hems so that they would not rise up in the water. The men's swim suit, a rather form-fitting wool garment with long sleeves and legs similar to long underwear, was developed and would change little for a century.

19th century

Prior to the mid-19th century, swimming nude was unexceptional.[6] The English practice of men swimming in the nude was banned in the United Kingdom in 1860. Drawers, or caleçons as they were called, came into use in the 1860s. Even then there were many who protested against them and wanted to remain in the nude. Rev. Francis Kilvert, an English nude swimmer, described men's bathing suits coming into use in the 1870s as "a pair of very short red and white striped drawers".[7] Quotations from Kilvert's diary in Cec Cinder's The Nudist Idea, show the transition in the England of the 1870s from an acceptance of nude bathing to the mandatory use of bathing suits. Kilvert describes "a delicious feeling of freedom in stripping in the open air and running down naked to the sea".[7]

Among notable Americans, Benjamin Franklin, an avid swimmer, possessed a copy of The Art of Swimming by Melchisédech Thévenot, which featured illustrations of nude swimmers.[8] Presidents John Quincy Adams and Theodore Roosevelt are perhaps the best-known skinny-dippers. Roosevelt describes nude swims in the Potomac with his "tennis cabinet" in his Autobiography: "If we swam the Potomac, we usually took off our clothes."[9]

During the century, the woman's two piece suit became common—the two pieces being a gown from shoulder to knees plus a set of trousers with leggings going down to the ankles. In the Victorian era, popular beach resorts were commonly equipped with bathing machines designed to avoid the exposure of people in swimsuits, especially to people of the opposite sex.

20th century

Ernest Thompson Seton describes skinny dipping as one of the first activities of his Woodcraft Indians, a forerunner of the Scout movement, in 1902.[10]

Before the YMCA began to admit females in the early 1960s, swimming trunks were not permitted in their pools,[11] and high school swimming classes for boys sometimes had similar policies, citing the impracticality of providing and maintaining sanitary swimming gear and clogging swimming pools' filtration systems with lint fibers from the swimsuits. These practices were common because of the perception that there was nothing wrong or sexual about seeing members of the same gender in the nude, especially in these indoor contexts among equals in 'birthday suit uniform'. In some areas, this extended well into the early 1970s.

In some English schools, Manchester Grammar School for example, nude swimming was compulsory until the 1970s.[12] This was also the case for some US high [13] and junior high schools.[14] A 2006 Roper poll showed that 25% of all American adults had been skinny dipping at least once, and that 74% believed nude swimming should be tolerated at accepted locations.[15]

In the United States, states, counties and municipalities may enact their own dress codes, and many have. According to an Australian magazine, "In the early 1900s, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming. In 1907, at the height of her popularity, Kellerman was arrested on Revere Beach, Massachusetts, for indecency - she was wearing one of her fitted one-piece costumes."[16] In 1919, Ethelda Bleibtrey was arrested for nude swimming at the beach of Manhattan — she removed her stockings at a pool where it was forbidden to bare "the lower female extremities for public bathing." The subsequent public support for Bleibtrey led to the abandonment of stockings as a conventional element in women’s swimwear.

Nude swimming is fairly common in rural areas, where unexpected visitors are less likely. However, in some places even that type of swimming is forbidden by law. There is no federal law against nudity. Nude beaches, such as Baker Beach in San Francisco, operate within federal park lands in California. However, under a provision called concurrent jurisdiction, federal park rangers may enforce state and local laws, or invite local authorities to do so. Today, many swimmers in the United States confine nude swimming to private situations due to concerns about attitudes to public nudity.

Since the early 20th century the naturist movement has developed in western countries that seeks a return to non-sexual nakedness when swimming and during other appropriate activities.[17] In some places around the world, nude beaches have been set aside for people who choose to engage in normal beach activities in the nude.

The bikini appeared in 1946, comprising a two piece swimsuit, the bottom large enough to cover the wearer's navel. It was advertised as the world's "smallest bathing suit".[18][19][20] Bikinis gradually became briefer and lower with narrower sides in the 1970s, and by the late 1970s and early 80s very low hipster bottoms with string ties and sides became popular. Other minimalist swimsuits are described as microkini, which typically use only enough fabric to cover the genitals and nipples, to stay within the law. Other minimalist swimwear worn by some women include thongs and pasties. Meanwhile, in the 1960s, the topless bikini or monokini made its appearance for those women who desire to engage in water or sun activities with the torso uncovered, in a practice often described as "toplessness" or "topfreedom". For men, swim briefs were the briefest swimsuit.

Contemporary situation

Today, most nude swimming takes place in private swimming pools, at a nude beach, at naturist facilities or at secluded or segregated public swimming areas. Some Western countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have no laws prohibiting nude swimming in public areas, but some countries around the world strictly enforce various laws against public nudity, including nude swimming. Despite this, even some jurisdictions which maintain strict laws against public nudity, such as New York City, may turn a blind eye to incidents of skinny dipping depending on the circumstances, as police officers on the spot decline to make arrests.[21]

In popular culture


Nude swimming was a common subject of Old Masters (painters from before the 1800s) and Romantic oil paintings, usually bucolic or in a mythological or historical settings. For example, Swedish painters Georg Pauli and Anders Zorn painted a number of nude swimming scenes. In later periods depictions of nude swimming scenes became rarer, but more likely to depict straightforward contemporary scenes. The cover of the June 4, 1921 edition of the Saturday Evening Post had Norman Rockwell's painting No Swimming, depicting boys in various states of undress escaping from the local authorities.


Several films have become notable in whole or in part due to their nude swimming scenes.


  • In 2009, Eve Kelly hosted The Skinny Dip, a Canadian travel show that sought out the world's most out-of-the-way swimming holes.[22]

See also

  • Naturism
  • List of obligatory nude recreation sites



Further reading

External links

  • public schools in the U.S. up to the late 1970s
  • EtymologyOnLine- Skinny
  • Guide to Swimming Holes and Hot Springs
  • The Naturist Society
  • NetNude (International Social Nudist Website)
  • South Florida Free Beaches (Haulover Beach Park)
  • Naturist Education Foundation
  • B.E.A.C.H.E.S. Foundation
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