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01/06/24 - 29/09/24

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Les archives du Soir

Under the title ‘À l’eau! À l’eau!’, we invite you to rediscover two very different approaches to this theme, but both linked to the summer, when the exhibition will be presented. In our corner of the world, summer can only be understood in terms of two essential elements: sun and water. The former generally leads to massive and widespread use of the latter.

Digging through our newspaper’s archives, we rediscovered two essential summer activities: the beach and the Tour de France. As far as the beach is concerned, we had already proposed, during the previous edition of the Prix National Photographie Ouverte, to rediscover the joyous atmosphere of the ‘Forts de résistance’ competitions which, for years, drew thousands of children to the Belgian coast to build sand ‘forts’.

Beach fashion evolving with the times

This time, our attention was caught by ... swimming costumes. Not the ones you see everywhere in today’s advertisements, but the ones worn by the generations that came before us. Indeed, although the summer heat inevitably draws us to rivers, lakes, swimming pools and the seaside, there is no question of jumping into the water without the appropriate bathing suit.

Beach clothing has changed considerably over the years, however. The young woman of 1893 dressed in white from head to toe (in several layers) who can be seen advancing cautiously into the sea, landing net in hand, would no doubt be astonished to see the outfits worn by today’s bathers. From the late nineteenth century to 1980, we have selected some of the bathing outfits that delighted generations of elegant women ... and the photographers who immortalized them.

The evolution of beach clothing also sheds light on the evolution of society. After the corseted outfits of the nineteenth century transformed into sporty ‘one-piece’ ensembles in 1900, a genuine wave of beach fashion emerged around 1920. Models now posed with the same professionalism as in high fashion. In the 1930s, the two-piece suit became the fashion of the day, with conquering young Amazons laying claim to the beaches. Then, little by little, beachwear seemed to become the preserve of starlets striking poses inspired by Hollywood ... However, it wasn’t until 1980 that we found any trace of swimming trunks ... for men in the rich col- lection of our photo library ...

Water to refresh yourself and quench your thirst

Men, on the other hand, are the only ones we see in the images of the Tour de France, where the search for water has always been one of the riders’ main preoccupations. And while today’s hyper-organized teams provide regular refreshments, ergonomic water bottles and heat-proof clothing, the images found in our archives tell a very different story.

On the Tour de France, water can be used to quench your thirst or cool down in the scorching July heat. The water you drink makes the athletes rush to the smallest fountain on the route. Riders celebrate with water bottles better than with champagne, and we can also observe that at certain times, riders were just as fond of a good old beer as they were of water. Some riders even carried bottles in their back pockets to refuel their teammates.

But water was also what many anonymous spectators used to douse the pack in the sweltering heat. Fire hoses, garden hoses, sophisticated showering equipment and even watering cans were the riders’ best friends. And when they had a day off, it wasn’t surprising to find some of them playing football by the sea.

From the beach to the roads of the Tour, our archives leave no room for doubt: water has always been the liquid gold of summer.

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On the beach, as elsewhere, many women broke free from old habits, 1930’s © All rights reserved