Early 1960s Gymsuit

I think it is pretty incredible that any vintage gymsuit exists.   Talk to almost any woman who had to wear one and you’ll get a long list of what was wrong with the garment, starting with unflattering and ending with hideous.  It seems to be a universally held memory by women over a certain age that the gymsuit was invented to lower self-esteem and inflict psychological pain.

One would think that on the last day of high school gym class there would have been mass ritual burnings of the garment.  Why would anyone keep such a hated thing?

To be honest, I can’t remember what happened to mine.  I graduated high school just as my sister started junior high, so it is possible that my mother made her wear it.  Not that there could have been much life left in it after I’d been abusing it for six years.  That’s right; I wore the same gymsuit for the entire six years of secondary school.  This was back in the day when mothers bought clothes a bit big so the child would “grow into” them.  Not that I grew much after age twelve.

But people did for one reason or another keep their old gymsuits.  I have fourteen of them, the oldest dating to around 1865 – 1870.  But until recently I did not have one that was similar to the one I wore in the late 1960s and early 70s.   Above you can see the latest addition to my little collection.

Gymsuits can be hard to date, as the styles tended to be used over a long period of time.  I was still wearing in 1973 the suit my parents bought in 1968.  And it was really similar to ones I’ve seen from the 1940s and 50s.    But there are a few things that told me this one was newer.

The button-down collar was the first hint.  According to a 1962 Moore Gymwear catalog I have, a style that was introduced the previous year was very popular partly due to “a sophisticated Ivy League, button-down collar.”   This suit was called the “Matadora”, and it is almost identical to my latest gymsuit even though mine was made by Champion.

In fact, my suit has every single one of the features shown in the diagram.

“Nylon and cotton elastic at waist for slender look”

“Button-down Ivy League Collar” and Snaps

“Princess Styling – Long Lines for Comfort” and “Tucks for Form Fit”  This suit has it all!

As I said, this suit was made by Champion.  The RN number is another big help in dating.  The labeling law changed in 1959, and it is known that the first number under the new law was 13670.  Since my number is 26094, I know the number was issued after 1959.  There is an RN number database, but it is of limited use.  For example, this number is now owned by Hanesbrands, which owns Champion.

I’m sure that this gymsuit was once white and that it has been dyed.  You can’t really tell in my photo, but the label is also green.  And the color is terribly uneven.

I love it when the original owner’s name is embroidered on the gymsuit, but I am so grateful my teachers did not have us do this.  It would have severely limited our ability to borrow a suit from a neat friend on inspection day!

These come up for sale quite often on ebay and etsy, but I don’t know of anyone other than myself who collects them.  They aren’t really “fashion”, but they are an important part of the shared history of women who came of age before the gymsuit was finally eliminated by most schools in the 1980s.


Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

18 responses to “Early 1960s Gymsuit

  1. It was 1946 and I had to wear the absolutely uglyest tan gyn suit with a royal blue collar and trim and bloomer pants with elastic running thru the legs. There us bi better word to describe it than ugly. Even the prettky girls looked ugly. No thanks for the memory, Lizzie. smile.


  2. The standard gym suit in my California high school 1953-1957 was a white blouse with royal blue shorts. I’m glad we didn’t have to wear what you did!


  3. P.S. Sorry I made so many mistake with my spellling in my comments…but the poor spellling serves the ugly gyn suit right! It was a bad memory…other than that, school was lots of fun in those days.


  4. I went to junior high and high school in San Leandro, CA. I also wore the identical suit in light blue for six years then handed it down to my sister. I hated those suits. If you moved wrong the snaps would all unsnap. Friends would tailor theirs to be skin tight. I would have preferred super loose but you could be given demerits for too baggy. Stupid!


  5. Morning Waters

    I also grew up in So California, in the Redlands/San Bernardino area. I had the same light blue gym suit too. I wonder if California just bought a ton of them to make us wear. No fond memories for me. The lucky boys got by with a white tee shirt and colored shorts.


  6. Wow! – hey girls! this must bring back memories!?….i was thinking as i read this posting – i was remembering the “get-up” they were wearing in the movie-“The Women” – ang the exercising outfits in that scene – the suits were shorts and blouses in what looked like satin-what happened if you perspired(a good old fashioned sweat) ???? or was that not concidered?!!!…….for sure you all looked cute – the basketball satins for guys and girls made you hot – just to look at them…LOVE it Ms. Lizzie- have a great 4th. everyone!


  7. Ohio, mid-50’s. Blue like in the picture. Bloomer bottoms. Self belt with metal buckle. Had to take it home every weekend to be washed. Stayed in the gym bag week after week. I’ve tried so hard to forget about that monstrosity! Me or little Marie Z always picked last for anything. Turned out I was rawther good at fencing, however. Must have been the mask. Made me forget what a dork I was.


  8. I remember a two piece outfit–white shirt, blue shorts. Not so bad, in my recollection. In junior high there was no gym, so we exercised in our school clothes!


    • Claritza4

      Our school was behind a car wash, so the year the gym was being renovated we had to slip shorts under our skirts outdoors while enduring whistles and rude comments from the car wash guys.


  9. I am a 90s kid, so gym suits weren’t around when I was in school, but I still remember pretty much all junior high gym clothes being difficult for my self esteem to handle. But I’m thinking it was just the junior high part, not the clothes…


  10. Ann

    In Dallas, TX we had white with baggy legs and our last name on the back Yolk.
    Gathered at the waist with sewn in belt on the front that was useless.
    I’m sure it was all a ruse to humiliate us all. Everyone vollied for drill team to get out of it and be able to wear white tees and purple shorts in the wee hours of the morning.


  11. Jennifer

    I’m looking for a early 69’s style gym romper in a bigger ladies size. If you happen to have anything, please contact me.


  12. Claritza4

    I’ve been told that one effect of Title IX was that
    if the girls’ gyms suits cost more than the boys’ it was discriminatory, a problem solved in my school system with unisex uniforms consisting of a t-shirt and shorts for the now co-ed gym classes.


  13. That does make a lot of sense. At my school, boys only had to purchase the shorts and could wear a regular white tee shirt, so my guess is that it was cheaper for boys.


  14. June

    Lizzie: Serious question here. It seems to me a great deal was made about having your gym suit and Keds boat sneakers “sanitized” in the ’60s for gym class. What did this mean and did it have any value? Were the items used in gym class sprayed with a chemical and/or were they more germ-free than the suit/sneakers worn today? Was it a valid selling point? I never see the term “Sanitized” printed inside any sneaker today.


    • June, I’m afraid I can’t give an educated answer to your question. I can only say that in my growing up days (1960s) sanitation usually happened in the washing machine with lots of hot water, and for whites, chlorine bleach.


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