Tom Brigance Waterclothes 1970s Bathing Set

Having lived through the 1970s doesn’t make collecting the clothing from that decade easier. If anything, the waters are muddied by memories, some of which are not representative of the era. I once went to an exhibition that showed handbags from different eras, along with what women might have carried in each. I was loving the show until I got to the 1970s bags, and for some reason, the contents the curator had chosen seemed all wrong to me. After all, I was there, and I know what I carried in my bag.

But in some ways the more recent decades are easier to collect. For one thing, there’s more choice. And often the choices include high quality items at a reasonable price which in earlier decades would be priced out of sight. This set from sportswear designer Tom Brigance is a great example.

Brigance’s name isn’t as well known as some of his peers, like  Claire McCardell, Tina Leser, and Rose Marie Reid. But when it comes to beachwear, Mr. Brigance was hard to beat. He started out designing in Europe in the 1930s, but went to New York in 1939 where he designed at Lord & Taylor. Like so many others, his career was interrupted by World War II, but when the war ended, he returned to Lord & Taylor. In 1949 he opened his own design business, designing sportswear and swimsuits for various companies.

I have a Tom Brigance halter dress from the 1950s, but I’d had a Brigance bathing suit on my wishlist for some time. I was thinking that I wanted one from the 1950s, but when this set showed up on eBay, I changed my mind. I see this as a great representation of the type of things Brigance designed. He often used interesting necklines, and bare but covered lines.  The seller described this as being from the 1960s, and I didn’t disagree until I looked at the close-up photos. After all, it does that the mid 1960s Cole of California Scandal Suit vibe.

The soft interior of the bra section tells me this is not likely to be a 1960s suit. Until the early 1970s, most makers were designing bathing suits with rigid bras, and many even had boning. Things began to soften at the end of the 1960s with bras made of a bonded fabric that was soft but that held its shape. Many of these have deteriorated into dust. This suit simply has a shelf bra made of thick nylon.

The guessing game ended when I spotted this label.  The ILGWU switched to this label in 1974, using the colors of the American flag. Was this part of their campaign to get Americans to “Always look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!”

Someone paid a lot for this set, though I don’t know exactly how much because the prices have been removed. And as you can see, it was never worn as the paper tags are still attached. I have detached the tags and have stored them, as the garments do not need any more exposure to the acidic paper.

As a buyer, I don’t expect sellers to always know everything about what they are selling. But the best sellers put in enough photos so people like me can make a determination on our own. That means lots of label shots. In  this case, I knew exactly what I was buying because of the union label.

5 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

5 responses to “Tom Brigance Waterclothes 1970s Bathing Set

  1. jacq staubs

    Memory rush! Thank you for this. Brigance was a designer i too remember from the 70’s.As you point out the structure of swimwear had evolved. However in which customer profile? He had a more sophisticated client? The cover up shirt jacket lends itself to that. I do remember the long beach dresses / skirts / pants.All or most sheer.Or am i thinking of someone else?

    Like

  2. Patricia

    This suit and cover up is amazing. I would love this suit today. I want to add as a conservator, I would like to suggest that you could have placed the paper tags into small zip lock bags and kept them attached to the garment. This way they won’t be lost. The amount of acid you are concerned about is very small. But I am glad you were concerned. Whom ever inherits your collection is going to be very, very lucky!

    Like

  3. suzstyle

    This set looks more 80’s . I helped install an exhibit entitled Splash ! At FIT with the great Richard Martin and Harold Koda .. I donated a 2 pc Cole if California gold lame suit to their show and permanent collection as well as a pair of Claire McCardle cat eye sunglasses . Thanks for all your insights on this blog ! Suza

    Like

  4. So beautiful! I love these little stories about your collection. And it’s wonderful that you are still adding to BAM (Bramlett Archive and Museum) despite the crisis.

    Like

  5. What a timeless garment, how elegant yet functional.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Patricia Cancel 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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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.