Bad History, and a Bit about Lastex

Beauty Mask using Lastex, filed in 1933 by Ronald Giuliano

When I posted about how “the internet” is changing clothing terminology, I felt like I was a bit of a grump, and thus vowed to not to write about things that irritate me.  But an article on the fashion site, Fashionista sent me over the edge. When I saw a link to “How Today’s Biggest Swimsuit Companies Got their Start Knitting Wool” come up on Twitter , I knew better than to click to it.  I did it anyway.

I appreciate that sites like Fashionista are willing to devote space to fashion history articles.  What I don’t appreciate is the lack of fact checking and the use of freelance fashion writers instead of fashion historians.

The big issue I have with this article is this sentence:

 Starting in the mid ’20s, swimwear companies began to weave elastic, known as Lastex, into the suits, offering a far more flattering fit…

Being a collector of swimsuits, I knew I’d never seen one from the 1920s that contained Lastex, and the earliest ones I remembered being advertised were from around 1935.  Susan at Witness2Fashion wrote about Lastex last year.  The earliest use of Lastex she found was in 1932, in a Sears catalog, on a page of girdles.

So I went in search of the facts, hopefully in a well-researched article that told the history of Lastex.  I didn’t find it, but a series of rabbit holes led to the names of Percy and James Adamson.  After finding the names connected with the development of an elastic thread, the main source of information turned out to be old court documents.  It appears that the Adamsons were in court a lot.

In 1926 the brothers Adamson formed a little company hoping that Percy’s experiments with new yarns would lead to a money-maker.  In 1930 Percy was successful in making a rubber thread, wrapped with cotton or another fiber.  He filed for a patent and then in 1931, refiled as he had made improvements.  He also filed for a trademark for “Lastex”.  He then contacted the United States Rubber Company, who entered into an agreement with Percy.  US Rubber would get the trademark for Lastex, manufacture the yarn and pay the Adamson Company royalties.

There’s a lot more to the story (lawsuits…), but it really does not add to the basic story that Lastex was invented in 1930, and patented and trademarked in 1931. In looking through dozens of patents, mainly for stockings, underwear, and swimsuits, it becomes obvious that Lastex really caught on around 1934 or 35.

All this leads us back to the Fashionsta article with its problematic line.  The mid 1920s date has now been assigned  by a large fashion website to the usage of Lastex in swimsuits.  As of today the article has been shared on social media 514 times, and that does not include all the retweets, and Facebook sharing.  Yes, my blog post sets the record straight, but only a thousand or so people will read this, and I’ll be lucky if it is shared ten times on social media.

I realize the purpose of Fashionsta is to turn out fluff pieces that no one really takes seriously, but there are people who have read the article and will remember that mid 1920s date.  In one article, history is changed.  How long will it be before swimsuits containing Lastex are advertised for sale as being from the 1920s?

The article also relates the story of Annette Kellerman’s arrest on a Boston beach in 1907.  As I posted last week, there is very little documentation to support the story, although years after the fact Kellerman was fond of relating the tale.  The earliest reference that I can find to the incident is a syndicated newspaper article from November, 1932.  The information for that article came from an interview with Kellerman.  I’m not saying the arrest did not happen, but I do believe this would be a great topic for further study.

One last thing and then I’ll shut up.

…women wore swimsuits of fine ribbed wool to the beach. Typically shaped like a knee-length romper, or featuring a vest or short-sleeve top with shorts… They were only available in dark colors, with a minimum of decoration: perhaps some stripes around the knees, buttons on the shoulders or a tie at the waist.

No. Even though the most common suits were black and dark navy, other colors were definitely available.

An early 1920s bathing suit in my collection

 

22 Comments

Filed under Viewpoint

22 responses to “Bad History, and a Bit about Lastex

  1. Thank you for all your fact checking, Lizzie. Am so sorry about the necessity that brought you to it. It’s a good reminder for us all to read online materials carefully.

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  2. Unfortunately, everyone thinks they’re a journalist these days but they don’t interview experts to backup the premise of their posts. The writer could have talked to Valerie Steele or another fashion historian for comment and gotten the dates right. Even when I just Googled “Lastex History” the top couple of stories that came up had the dates right. Just pure slap-dash carelessness. Some writers have a quota of stories they have to post each day to get paid so I think they tend to just throw things together quickly. And there is no editing/fact-checking anymore. Sad.

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    • I think that, ultimately, the credit/blame for this article rests with Fashionista. It’s their site, and they need to fact check. One of the major irritations of my blogging experience came when a major UK textiles magazine used a blog post of mine on which to base a small feature. They had written for permission, so I assumed, incorrectly, that they would used my writing and give me the byline. But it was rewritten by a staff writer who evidently cannot read, and she got the facts all messed up. It was embarrassing, and unfortunately, those mistakes are in print for people to access for years to come.

      I understand the desire – and need – for a freelancer to get paid, but one needs to write about what one knows. It would be like me trying to write about clothing in Ancient Greece. I’d not have a lot of background on which to build an article.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, actually I just read the story and the writer did get comments from people…it almost seems like her misinformation at when Lastex began came from the Jantzen archivist… I’m also thinking she may have gotten confused and meant to write ’30s rather than ’20s…The writer has byline in InStyle magazine and I know that at InStyle they have a very thorough fact-checking system in place so the writer should be familiar with getting facts straight even f it the story is for another outlet. Oh well. Otherwise, I think she did a good job with this story.

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    • The comment from the Jantzen is in such close proximity to the error that it does seem to connect the two sentences. But, I feel quite certain the idea did not come from the archivist, as though my experience with that archive is limited, I’ve got a lot of respect for their knowledge of swimsuit history.

      And I don’t think it is a typo either, as she goes on to say, “Later in the decade and into the ’30s…” It’s just so unfortunate. The problem with an error this huge is that it takes all the credibility from the rest of the article.

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      • Christina

        The article was a bit sloppy factually. The Jantzen online Timeline refers to Lastex in the 1930’s not before. In the paragraph containing “only available in dark colours” the error is only made worse by the photo below dated 1918 and clearly showing swimwear in colours. I believe coloured swimwear began to be seen from c1915. Lizzie might correct me. I don’t see any Comments correcting the Fashionista article so maybe someone should…?

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  4. Curses. But people who are seriously interested will look beyond a Fashionista article.

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  5. Good for you, Lizzie! Lack of fact checking drives me insane! Thanks for your thoroughness.

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  6. Danette

    I’m sure it can be irritating to you with all of your knowledge. Yet grateful that people are interested in the history and keeping the new generations interested. LOVE your blog and always look forward to reading😍 (Have you ever seen the film Kiss and Make Up 1934 with Cary Grant per photo above?)

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  7. Thanks for another example of how the internet can spread bad information. Brava!
    Also, just to clarify, I didn’t do an exhaustive search for “Lastex” in American ads before 1932 (but the Sears page from Spring of 1932 which I showed boasts that it’s “New;” and Ewing says the first “roll-on” girdle “dates from 1932 in England and probably a year earlier in the U.S.A.” That would make sense, if a mass-market catalog like Sears was able to sell them in 1932. I was surprised to find a Lastex Company advertisement for Lastex as used in men’s clothing in Esquire, March, 1934. The ad text can be seen at: https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/1934-mar-p-8-lastex-ad-suits-suit-text-only-500.jpg?w=500&h=299
    Lastex also made possible hosiery that stayed up without garters, as seen in a 1936 ad for Knee High stockings made by Holeproof. For a really clear explanation of how latex became Lastex, I recommend Elizabeth Ewing’s book Fashion in Underwear, pp. 105 – 107.

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  8. I really appreciate this thread of comments. Partly because it is an interesting topic, and mostly because I am happy whenever intellectual rigor is applied to anything anymore.

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  9. gosh, what a great post and discussion here with so many valid points!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is why I always try to find other sources saying the same thing before I even begin to think about repeating it! Thank you for bringing this to attention!

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  11. Pingback: 1930s Swimsuit with Stars and Rope | The Vintage Traveler

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