Catalina Contures, 1960s Key to Confidence in Swimwear Comfort

Here’s one to be filed under “Things I found while looking for something else.” I could also put it under, “Things I didn’t know existed.”

Not that I didn’t know about “falsies” or bust pads; I just didn’t know that Catalina made these for swimsuits back in the 1960s. And considering how much time I spent  between 1965 and 1972 devouring Seventeen and Teen magazines, You’d think I’d have known every product that was marketed to my demographic (otherwise known as the teenager).

I have a fairly decent selection of Seventeen and other fashion magazines from the 60s, so after I found this item, I decided to revisit the magazines to see if I could spot an ad for Contures. I was pretty sure that I’d come up empty, as I felt sure I would have remembered seeing this product, and especially if the mermaid packaging was featured in the ads. And I was right, there were no Contures ads to be found.

From reading many online ads for vintage Catalina bathing suits, it does appear that many of their styles were made with pockets in which to insert the pads. I’m still trying to figure out how that would lead to “confidence in swimwear comfort”.

Looking at this product and the language used to sell it, it’s no wonder so many young women developed (and unfortunately still develop) body image issues. I do hope that all of you who have girls and teens are teaching them that their bodies are not objects that need correcting. Well, unless they have scoliosis or some other medical condition.

It’s really quite remarkable that these have survived at all, much less in the original box in a plastic bag. It’s obvious they were never used. Maybe the buyer had a moment of clarity and decided her breasts were fine as is. I like to think that’s the case.

The condition of the pads is amazing. They look like new, which is surprising considering they are made from a spongy synthetic substance and were wrapped in a plastic bag for fifty years. I have re-homed them in a muslin pouch, after wrapping them in acid-free tissue. Maybe that will help them last another fifty years.

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1970s Design Research and Marimekko Bikini

Here’s a truth about collecting: Sometimes it is easier to effectively collect things that are one hundred years old than it is to collect things one remembers wearing.  When it comes to things within one’s memory, your thoughts can’t help but be clouded by what you actually remember. Does that make sense? Well, here’s an example.

I once went to an exhibition of one woman’s collection of handbags along with her collected contents of what might be in each bag. With the 1900s through the 1950s bags, all was well, but when it got to the late 1960s and the 70s, things seemed to fall apart. I scrutinized each item, as though it was my handbag from that time. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was reading my own experience into the contents of the bags.

It was a valuable lesson.  But it has also made me very cautious when collecting from my own years of wearing fashion, particularly the 1970s. This helps explain why I have more bathing suits from the 1930s than from the 1970s.

Still, I can recognize the good stuff when I see it. This 1970s bikini is a good example. I first spotted it on the Instagram feed of  Selvedge Fine Vintage, and I knew it was something I needed for the collection.

I don’t remember Design Research from my youth, though I do remember the brand that was most associated with that store, Marimekko. Growing up in North Carolina, we used to joke that we could get a copy of a two year old Seventeen, copy the styles, and be on the cutting edge of fashion. It was the truth. Looking back at Seventeen from 1973 I can see how great and cute the styles were, but none of us in the back-of-beyond would have had the courage to wear most of what the magazine was telling us was stylish.

But I would have worn this bathing suit.

I’ve written about Design Research before, so I won’t repeat the facts here. But what makes them important was their association with Marimekko. My new bikini does not have a Marimekko label, but it’s impossible to deny the connection. This suit, if not from Marimekko, was strongly influenced by the Finnish brand.

This was about as skimpy a bathing suit as I would ever have worn. What makes it really interesting is that built into the pants is a way to make them even smaller.

On the inside of the sides is a drawstring that can make the side a few inches smaller.

So as the bikini continued to shrink, bathing suit makers came up with ways for a wearer to have it both ways.

I have another Marimekko/Design Research item from around the same time, a shirt with a similar print. I’m not stretching the truth when I say that an early 70s woman would have worn this shirt as a cover-up for her black and white swimsuit. Many swimsuit companies were showing matching shirts as bathing suit cover-ups during this time.

All the Marimekko patterns have names, and if anyone recognizes either of these I’d love to know what they are called.

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Early 1930s Catalina Bathing Suit

When one thinks of pioneers in the American swimsuit industry, Jantzen immediately comes to mind. But lately I’ve been giving a longer look at another major swimwear maker, Catalina. And while it’s probably true that Jantzen was the industry leader in the years between 1920 and 1970, my fresh look at Catalina has revealed a company that is at the top in terms of design.

I recently acquired the suit above, and I wanted it because it shows a link between the traditional one-piece suit, and what was soon to come, the woman’s two-piece. A side view makes this more obvious.

The bodice of the suit is attached only in the front for about seven inches. This feature was also seen in men’s suits at the time, and soon there was a zipper in men’s suits that allowed them, for the first time, to go topless. Women weren’t given that option (not until Rudy Gernrich’s monokini in 1964, anyway), but there was no stopping the shrinking of the swimsuit and the advent of the two-piece.

The two-piece for women first appeared in Europe in the early 1930s, and by 1935 Catalina was making two-piece suits, but it was not until the 1940s that it really caught on in the USA.

I did a lot of searching for my suit, but the closest I found was the suit in this 1932 ad.  The ad does not tell us the fiber of the yarn, but I’d guess that it’s wool, as this is about the time Lastex entered the market and radically changed the way swimsuits were made. After 1933 or so, most swimsuit ads boasted of their use of snug-fitting Lastex.

My suit does not have Lastex, so even though this style of suit was made for most of the 1930s, the later ones (1934 and after) I found ads for all have lastex.

Be sure to read the endorsement of Hollywood designer Adrian. While he did not design this suit, Catalina was quick to draw a parallel between their made in California suits and the movie industry. And isn’t it interesting that “we ‘play to’ their skin tones rather than their hair,” when the movies were still all in black and white!

According to the label, Catalina suits were, “Worn by the Stars of Hollywood”. Later in the decade Hollywood designer Orry Kelly did actually design suits for Catalina, and the company changed the line to, “Styled for the Stars of Hollywood”.

 

In the early 1930s the back was often bared in evening dresses, and so the swimsuit had to also bare the back.

This logo is hard to beat!

Even though this is a swimsuit knit of wool, it is very different from the wool suits of the 1920s. The gauge of the knit is much finer than that used only a few years earlier, the bodice is lined, and there is a real attempt at shaping through darts and contours. This suit had to have been much more flattering that the heavy wool knits of the past.

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Vintage Miscellany – July 29, 2018

There are times when I run across on old photo and I just wish the people could actually speak to me. This picture was probably taken around 1915 on the occasion of a school or church play. And while none of the girls looks particularly enthusiastic about her budding acting career, the girl in the middle front seems to be a bit more annoyed than most. Did she resent being a bee, when some girls were picked to be flowers? Did labeling her thus lead to issues of self esteem? We can only wonder.

And now for the news…

  •   Here’s a nice article about the clothing of Marie Curie , even though the title is a bit misleading.
  •    Some of Marie-Antoinette’s jewelry will be coming up at auction.
  •    Jonathan Walford has written a nice history of the Breton shirt.
  •    Burberry burned millions of dollars of merchandise in order to keep the brand from being “devalued”. My favorite part of this article is their claim that the items were burned in an environmentally safe manner.
  •    An article claiming Queen Elizabeth was trolling her guest Trump with the wearing of her pins was, unfortunately, quickly debunked.
  •    When Lilly Pulitzer closed shop in 1984, it was thought that her entire archive had been destroyed.  But the fabrics were designed by Suzie Zuzek at Key West Fabrics, whose archive was preserved.
  •    It appears that the poor sales of the made-in-China Ivanka Trump clothing line was not limited to Canada. The brand has now been shelved.
  •   When was the last time you read or heard an historian being credited in a news story?
  •   The history and science behind the stiletto heel, revealed.
  •    You can buy a tacky souvenir New York tote bag all over the city for less than $20, but if you want the $2000 Balenciaga version, hurry before the law suit forces them off the shelves.

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1960s Susan Gail Original Handbag

I’m not really a big handbag collector, but when I find one that really is interesting, I might capitulate and add it to the handbag shelf. This one from the early 1960s is a good example. I was hooked by the little golden clothespin clasp.

Who could resist? A woman is only so strong in the face of such a novelty.

It wasn’t until I got this bag home that I realized it has another interesting feature – it coverts from a handbag to a shoulder bag. The strap snaps so that it can be lengthened.

This got me to asking myself a question. I was sure that the bad was from the early 1960s, but were women wearing shoulder bags during that time as well? I had always associated the longer straps with the late 60s and the 70s. So I went on a search through my vintage magazines, starting about 1958.

What I discovered was that shoulder bags were being shown for a short time starting in 1960. Maybe my bag was an attempt by Susan Gail to test the shoulder bag waters, but with the assurance that if it turned out to be a mere fad, the bag could still be used.

I was hoping to find ads for Susan Gail goods, but I failed in that attempt. I did find an entry for the company at Bag Lady U.

The Bay Lady mentioned the Susan Gail accordion structure:

The Susan Gail Accordion bag design results from the unique interior frame design. A series of folds in the gussets are not attached to the metal frame and expand wide when open. 

As you can see, my bag has this design feature.

I went on an internet search of other Susan Gail bags. What I found was that the company did a tricked-out copy of the Gucci bamboo handle bag. They also made bags that look suspiciously like the Hermes Kelly. That’s pretty sad, because my bag is pretty nifty, proving that being creative and original beats being a copycat any day.

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Currently Reading – Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, by Tessa Boase

Mrs. Pankhurst’s Purple Feather is the story of two movements for change, and the two women behind the movements. One story, that of  Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, is well documented. She was the force behind WSPU, Women’s Social and Political Union, one of the groups fighting for the right of women to vote in Great Britain.

Lesser known was the other woman, Etta Lemon, the leader of the SPB,  Society for the Protection of Birds. I had, in fact, never heard of Mrs. Lemon, but I was pleased to meet her acquaintance.  In today’s world many of us are very concerned about the rights of animals, and so it is very fitting that Tessa Boase has brought Etta Lemon’s story into the limelight with this book.

The book begins with Etta Lemon, and how she came to be a fighter for birds in a time, the late 19th century, when birds were prized as hat decorations. It’s hard for us to believe today just how many birds were killed so that their feathers, wings, and entire bodies could be perched on top of a woman’s head. For a quick and easy introduction to this issue in the USA, listen to Murderous Millinery at the Dressed podcast.

Part of the feather story that is often neglected is the human cost. The feathers as they came from the bird were not beautiful enough to satisfy the fashionable, so many women and children toiled at rock-bottom wages to process and enhance feathers. In a very enlightening subplot, Boase tells us the story of Alice Battershall, a feather worker who stole a feather from her work, and who paid the legal price of three weeks hard labor in prison.

Mrs, Pankhurst, the champion of women’s voting rights, cared not a whit for the plight of birds. As a fashionable woman, she loved her hats which were frequently trimmed with feathers.

World War One, which started in 1914, pretty much put both movements on the political back burner. After the war ended, the world had changed tremendously. Women, whose wartime work had been invaluable were given the right to vote (not all at first, but eventually all were enfranchised). And the elaborate styles of the prewar years faded as a more modern and streamlined woman of fashion emerged. Mrs. Lemon finally got her bird law in 1921, just as demand for feathers in fashion dropped.

You know, this was exactly the book I needed to reassure me that there have been lasting changes made for advancement of women and the protection of our natural world. With so much of the news out of Washington causing concern on these issues, it’s nice knowing that justice does often win in the end.

This book was sent to me as a review copy, but those of you who know me know that the opinions expressed are entirely my own. Yes, I do recommend this book, and I want to thank Tessa Boase for arranging for me to read this fascinating story.

 

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1960s Emilio Pucci Pants Set

Photo courtesy of Meloo Vintage

I find that I’m a bit of an age snob when it comes to looking for sportswear for my collection. What that means is that I find it to be a lot more exciting to look for items from the first half of the 20th century than for those from the second half.

I think part of the problems is that so much survives from the 1960s and 70s, that I’ve learned to be really picky about what I pick up. If I have got mid 1960s “scooter” dresses on my mind, I could go to etsy, Ruby Lane, and Ebay and have my pick of dozens of items.  Even with high-end garments like those from Italian designer Emilio Pucci, there are hundreds of items listed for sale at any given time.

So, I don’t really search very hard for things made in the last sixty years or so, but when I run across a stellar example, I’m ready to shop. And when Melissa of Meloo Vintage posted this set on Instagram, I fell in love.

For years I’ve been looking for an older Pucci set, from his days on the Isle of Capri, but I’ve not been lucky to find what I wanted. I dumbly passed on a great ski-themed top from the late 1950s, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. But when I saw this tunic and pants set, I knew I’d found my Pucci set.

It dates a little later, from the early to mid 1960s. Pucci can be difficult to date, as the nature of the prints are outside the whims of fashion. Older prints (from the 1950s) are often on a theme, like the skiing blouse I mentioned. The label used is a big help, and my set has the labels most commonly seen in the 1960s.

I’d love to think that some jet setter bought it in Italy, but instead there is a B. Forman of Rochester label alongside the Pucci one. I have no idea what the little “E” label means.

You can see that a metal zipper was used, but be sure to note the way it was inserted – by hand picking. This is a detail seen more commonly in couture clothing, which this is not. But it does go to show how much more handwork went into high-end ready-to-wear fifty-five years ago than you see today.

The crease in the pants is made permanent by the use of hand picking, and the side seams are secured in the same manner.

What really sold me on this set was the way the print of the tunic was designed specifically to be a top with a scalloped edge. It’s one of things that makes the set so special. Imagine, for contrast, if the tunic was made from the same print, but that it was cut in a willy-nilly manner with no thought to the scallops or to the placement of the center of the design.

What could be more Continental than three-quarters length sleeves with French cuffs?

The bateau neck is actually padded. It’s just one more great detail.

In the late 1960s mainstream fashion caught up with Pucci, and these “psychedelic” prints were everywhere. From what I’ve seen of Pucci garments from the 1970s and later, the print became the design, but in these earlier pieces you can see how Pucci was more than just a bunch of color thrown onto the fabric.

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