Most Wanted: WWII Era Block Printed Swimsuit

I’m starting a new feature just to show how I can get something on my mind and just keep thinking about it until I either drive myself crazy, or I find an example. Lately, I’ve been all about swimsuits like the one on the right.  These were a wartime innovation, probably in response to the scarcity of dyes and fabrics.

All the ads I’ve found date from 1943 through 1949. Even though there were two piece swimsuits before WWII, they became more prevalent during the war. Because the pieces of fabric used to construct the tops and bottoms are smaller than would be in a one piece, the cutter of the fabric could be more creative in the placement of the pieces, and could work out ways in which to save fabric.

Dyes were made of chemicals used in the war effort, so fabrics were limited to fewer colors. The block printing of the design added color to the white fabric while saving on dye.

All of the examples I’ve seen were made by Catalina Knitting Mills of California, and I’ve seen the idea attributed to their designer, Mary Ann DeWeese (Remember these lobster suits by DeWeese?). I imagine there were companies that copied the idea.

I’ve seen this outrigger canoe design in shades of blue. It’s pretty impressive!

See the difference a few fish (whales?) make?

I’m not sure if this one is actually printed, or if  it is cut and pieced. I’m glad I picked this one out to enlarge because the shoes on the woman on the right are very similar to a pair I have. Otherwise I would never have noticed them.

And here’s another view of the same suit.

These do come on the market quite often, but the prices are always pretty insane. I can see why they are so desirable, so I’ll just wait until I find one in a dusty corner of an estate sale. It could happen, right?


Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Most Wanted, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs

5 responses to “Most Wanted: WWII Era Block Printed Swimsuit

  1. Reminds me of the swimsuit Joan Crawford wore in Mildred Pierce- wonder how that got by sensors -GI’s needed the morale boost! Sure would have loved these photos! “pin up” girls had block printed suits?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good luck on your hunt! And… it’s wonderful that something so appealing to the eye emerged from multiple wartime constraints!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Christina

    Very nice collection of photos. Germany had been the major supplier of dyestuffs to the United States but following the outbreak of The Second World War the import of dyestuffs was curtailed. There was an interesting additional reason for this. Some American companies that produced dyes had imported dyestuffs from the German company Farben and were accused of conspiring with the Germans to restrict dyestuffs that prevented the domestic imports of dyed from the United States.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Catalina Culottes Plus Associated American Artist Print | The Vintage Traveler

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