Almost as soon as women took to the water as bathers, they tried to come up with a reasonable solution to keeping their hair dry. According to my search of the US Patent Office data base, the first rubber bathing cap was patented in 1887. Over the next thirty-five years or so, bathing caps looked a lot like a present-day shower cap, with a lot of loose space in the cap to accommodate a women’s long hair.
But as hair styles got shorter in the 1920s, the rubber bathing cap became more fitted to the head. By the 1930s rubber bathing caps looked very similar to the ones that can be bought today. For that reason, bathing caps are really hard to accurately date.
The cap above was a very lucky find. I pulled it out of a bin at the Goodwill outlet – a bin of “hard goods” such as plastic toys, video tapes, cookie tins, and all the other stuff people get rid of. It was a small miracle that it survived the last eighty years, but most of all, that it survived the mad scramble of Goodwill shoppers in their quest to find a bit of treasure in the bins.
Inside, the only marks were the numbers, 801232. I thought that it could possibly be a patent number, but unfortunately it was not. Also note the rubber bands across the opening. These were thought to help keep water out. I found dozens of patents for these “seals,” all just a bit different, all an “improvement” over the others.
I have a 1930s Kleinert’s catalog that is not dated, but it did have an interesting bit of information. It mentioned that Kleinert’s caps were of the new seamless style. Two of the caps are shown above, and you can see how similar in style they are to my cap, but my cap has two seams that run front to back.
Here is a similar cap shown in a 1932 fashion illustration in Vogue magazine. Because it is a drawing, there is no way to tell if it was seamed or not, but it does show that this style was used over the course of several years.
In this rather unfortunate photograph, the woman is wearing an early to mid 1930s style swimsuit along with a similar style cap, but with a strap.
The photo above was taken in the late 1920s as an ad for a summer cap. You can clearly see the seam in the side of one bathing cap, and it is not as sleek as mine or the ones illustrated that are from the 1930s.
My best guess is that my cap dates from the early 1930s. The earliest patent for making an unseamed cap is dated 1932. I’d never given a seam much thought, but a quick look through my caps showed all of the ones from the 1940s and more recent were all seamless. It must have been a big improvement.