O.C. Answer Man: Is there a rule about skimpy bathing suits in Newport Beach?

Illustration by Blair Thornley

A: Municipal code dictates that one must cover one’s naughty bits—and then defines which bits those are. There were once stricter rules, but that ended badly. In 1923, wealthy and eccentric Newport pioneer Tom Robinson needed a hobby. He soon discovered an old unenforced ordinance that declared “the distance between a woman’s swim skirt and knee cap must not exceed 10 inches” and created the position of city bathing suit inspector. Robinson, then 68, appointed himself to the job and the city went along. Soon Robinson was on the beach, measuring women’s exposed thighs using the width of his two hands. A Santa Ana woman clobbered him, but he was undeterred. In 1924, the women of Newport Beach successfully petitioned for the removal of the ordinance and the inspector. With his groping days behind him, Robinson quickly became a recluse, fell ill, and in late 1926 ended his life by walking into the ocean fully clothed.

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