Catalina Bathing Suit, Circa 1939

I added this satin rayon and Lastex bathing suit from maker Catalina to my collection for several reasons. The main one is that this is the earliest screen printed design I have ever seen in a bathing suit. Generally, these date to the post-war Forties and the very early Fifties. And Catalina was a major producer of that type of design.

I have dated this suit as pre-WWII, based on the design of the suit and the materials used. As the 1930s came in, most bathing suits were still being made from wool knit. The introduction of Lastex into the yarn made the fit better, but manufacturers were looking for a replacement for the scratchy, slow-drying wool. One solution was adding Lastex to rayon or silk. The material was smooth and kept its shape. It did, however, have an unpleasant smell of rubber when damp. Still, this type of fabric was used from the late Thirties (except for the war years when rubber-based Lastex was generally unavailable) until the early Sixties when nylon and polyester became more popular.

The biggest clue is the style of the suit. The photo above is not of a Catalina suit, but is a Mabs of Hollywood design. Still, see how the suit is very similar in design to my Catalina suit. I could post dozens of suits from 1939 and you would see the same silhouette.

Catalina was formed in 1928 from its parent company, Pacific Knitting Mills. Their earliest bathing suits were made of wool jersey and sported a flying fish logo. (An idea stolen from competitor Jantzen, perhaps.) In the later Thirties, Catalina was still using the logo on some of their suits, but here we see it on a buckle on the straps. It was also on their labels.

This label was used starting in the late 1930s, or possibly 1940. You can still see the flying fish, but I especially love the artist’s palette. Maybe they were trying to stress the new development of screen printed, artistic fabrics.

This stitch was evidently made by machine. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The fabric is stretchy, due to the Lastex, but a zipper is still required to make putting on and taking off easier.

Lots of searching has not produced ads for this early screen printed satin, but I am confident it is pre-WWII.


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3 responses to “Catalina Bathing Suit, Circa 1939

  1. Do you think that’s the original zipper?


  2. It is really beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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