Historic Hawke's Bay: Line up of beauties on the beach


 Perched high on a trestle table, which led from Napier's Marine Parade Sound Shell, are contestants in a bathing beauty contest dating around the late 1930s or 1940s.

At one point having such a contest anywhere in the world would have been unthinkable, and like many parts of New Zealand (and the world) during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, men and women on public beaches swam in the sea out of range of each other.

Bathing beauty contests made their first appearance in the United States in 1880 at Delaware and, due to the covering of most of the girls' skin, raised little protest during the modest Victorian period. The Roaring 20s, with its changing social norms, including that of more freedom for women - which had started to occur at the end of World War I, led to widespread bathing beauty contests in the US, and other countries such as New Zealand. (The first Miss America contest was held in the US in 1921, and overlooked normal rules during the bathing beauty contest of their women not being allowed to show their knees on a beach, where "beach censors" kept an eye on women's socks being rolled down.)

The Lyall Bay Surf Club in Wellington appears to have held the first National Bathing Beauty Contest in New Zealand over the New Year period in 1925/26.

The tradition of these contests continues today (although, among other things, in a less formal format), with events such as Miss Waimarama 2013 being held at the More FM Waimarama Beach Day over the weekend.

Michael Fowler is taking walks around Hastings during Art Deco Weekend looking at architecture and the effect of the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake. Book at www.artdeconapier.com

- Hawkes Bay Today

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