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.