Our words are important.  This is true in politics and in fashion history.  I love people who have the strength to sell old clothes online because I know how much work it can be, but what I don’t like is how a garment can morph from its original purpose to something entirely different in the interest of selling that garment.

The garment shown above is a gymsuit.  Period.  It is not a playsuit.  It is not a romper. It is, despite what etsy listings would lead one to believe, a gymsuit.

This is a bathing suit by Tina Leser.  Period.  It is not a playsuit.  It is not a romper. It is, despite what etsy listings would lead one to believe, a bathing suit.


This is a 1911 bathing suit.  A similar suit is currently listed on etsy as a “1920’s Cotton Playsuit, Beach Romper, Athletic Wear,  Bloomers” but it too, is a bathing suit.  Nowhere in the description, nor in the tags, was the term bathing suit even used.  That would completely  eliminate that suit from the search I regularly do for older bathing suits.

But more importantly, things like this change the terminology of fashion and of clothing.  It’s like calling a short 1920s dress a “mini”, or a long 1930s dress a “maxi”.  These terms did not come into use until decades later, and so using them in an older context is incorrect.  I will agree that it is possible that some people might have referred to the Tina Leser type suit as a playsuit, but rompers were for toddlers, not for grown women.

As of this writing, there are 3125 listings for “playsuit” in the women’s vintage category on etsy.  Most of these are for 1950s and 1960s bathing suits.  Some are for 1980s jumpsuits.  And all are titled and tagged in a manner that a serious collector is never going to find them.

UPDATE: I know better than to make a statement so definite as ” rompers were for toddlers, not for grown women.”  A friend has emailed a photo of a 1920s sewing pattern of a one piece garment with legs for ladies, misses and girls, and the pattern refers to it as a romper.  Let me rephrase that to say that in my experience, rompers were worn by my little sister and cousins in the 1960s, and I wore culotte dresses in the 60s and jumpsuits in the 70s.


Filed under Shopping, Viewpoint

16 responses to “Terminology

  1. I agree. Words are important in so many ways. If necessary, amplify the meaning of the older term in words modern readers can understand. The internet is full of people selling stuff they know nothing about. Sowing machines…treddles…just to name the items I search for.


  2. But if you can find the mislabeled things, you’ve got a better chance of getting them cheap, no? ;^)


    • Sometimes! I once found a circa 1918 bathing cap while searching for mod dresses. I think I paid around $5 for it. But the “1920’s Cotton Playsuit, Beach Romper, Athletic Wear, Bloomers” mentioned is on etsy for $325!


  3. I’m a stickler for using the correct terms too; however, there’s this silly little thing called SEO, Search Engine Optimization, that sellers have to pay attention to if they want their items to be found amongst the vast sea of online vintage. So when I’m selling a long 1930s dress, I do include “maxi’ as a search term. I know it isn’t the so-called “correct” vintage terminology, but in our modern world, it’s definitely relevant if someone’s looking for a long dress. And ideally, perhaps by using this search term, I can introduce the lovely world of long 1930s dresses to someone who might not even know about them but just wanted to find a pretty maxi dress.
    Same goes for a 2 piece bathing suit pattern I have from the 1940s. From a seller’s standpoint, it would be a mistake to not use the word “bikini” in my tags and title. That’s just the common term for a 2 piece bathing suit today. I know bikinis technically weren’t invented until 1946 and didn’t become popular in America until the 1960s, but when my pattern was made in New York, early to mid 40s, it was just called a ‘bra top and shorts’. If I were to only call it that in my search, it wouldn’t be at all relevant to someone searching for a bra or shorts pattern because nowadays both of those terms have evolved into something entirely different.
    I wholeheartedly agree words are important, and it is important to use the proper terminology, however antiquated it may be, but in order to stay relevant and searchable, sometimes I have to give in and use the modern term too, even if it’s not historically correct.
    But you can bet if I’m ever lucky enough to find an early 1900s bathing suit, I will call it what it is, a bathing suit! I think that one must have just been a seller’s mistake.


    • Christina

      Very well put. I actually think serious collectors are aware of the terminology problem and search accordingly. I have a real issue with sellers out there who are diluting inaccurate original information. I can go back to when vintage stated to be sold on eBay and the growth of online selling. Even though I wasn’t a seller I spent a ridiculous amount of time correcting mis-information on eBay. Sellers with little or no research. That mis-information over time becomes in a way it’s own category. In general – a dumbing down. However, the good thing is that the knowledgeable sellers wIll become reputable and have a following from serious collectors and buyers who value vintage in the truest sense.


    • I do understand the pressure to use terms just so your stuff can be seen.I think what sent me over the edge on this issue was the seller who called her bathing suit everything but. And she was 15 years off on the date as well!

      I consider myself to be a serious collector, not that I have unlimited funds, but that I do have a niche and when I find something exciting, I’m eager to add it to my collection. But shopping online has become a very time intensive hobby, with searches producing, more often than not, everything except what I’m searching for.

      An example. I just did a search on etsy for “1940s playsuit” and I narrowed it down to the women’s clothing under vintage. There were 123 results, 19 of which were what I’d consider to be 1940s playsuits. Most of the others were bathing suits, but also included were lingerie, skirt and jacket sets, and a few things I couldn’t identify. There were things ranging from the 1930s through the 90s. In short, it is frustrating.


      • Maya

        oh I know! And for her to ask $325 for the bathing suit! I just don’t see how that price can be justified when clearly very little time was spent actually researching the item. I wrote my previous comment before I found that listing, but after seeing it, I’m irked too! I’ll stop now because I don’t like saying mean things, but I definitely understand your frustration. I go through the same thing!

        Like Christina said, it does help weed out the good sellers from the not-so-good…but it also discourages buyers, having to wade through pages and pages of items that aren’t even relevant to what they’re searching for.

        I really wish Etsy would make their search system smarter. This would help with the problem. Instead of using tags, it would be nice if they offered more vintage categories, llike being able to narrow a clothing search by era and type, and made the descriptions searchable too. Their tag system was fine when they were a smaller site, but now there are millions of sellers, and they really need a more effective system. I hate to say it but it’s much easier for me to find something on eBay than Etsy…and I like Etsy better! I’d much rather spend my money there. In fact, I’m going to go write a letter to Etsy right now. Who know, maybe it will make a difference. And sorry about my long-winded rant. It was that 1920s “athletic wear beach romper” that sent me over the top!


  4. There is a temptation to list a dress from the early 1960s as “1950s” because that decade is what most people associate with that particular cut. Ugh. Now I’m going to slink away and update all my listings with the accurate terminology. *ducks, runs*


  5. As an etsy vintage seller, you guys are spot on with the ‘correct’ title issue being affected by SEO searches. I tried for years to keep the titles accurate, but realized that SEO requires me to get inside my buyers head and list what she thinks she’s looking for, so yes I have titles that include both “1960s” and “1950s” in them. Usually I’ll fine tune the description to be more accurate. If it’s an important piece, then I link over to a blog article I’ve written with more concise info for the collectors who want to know (vs the wearers who don’t care). When I shop on etsy, I also try to figure what odd ball terms the seller might use to describe what I’m looking for– it can take several tries, that’s for sure!


  6. Pingback: Bad History, and a Bit about Lastex | The Vintage Traveler

  7. Pingback: A Sun Mode Original by Jane Irwill | The Vintage Traveler

  8. Pingback: 1920s Gingham Romper | The Vintage Traveler

  9. patti smith

    I have one by Myers manufacturing company patented April 11, 1911 label says “winner”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.