Tag Archives: Catalina

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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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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Late 1950s Catalina Play-Alongs Plus Swimsuit

I found and bought the shirt above so many years ago that I have no recollection or record of its purchase. I know it has to be at least twenty years or so because for a long time it was actually in my closet. But I stopped wearing vintage on a regular basis long ago, mainly because I am so sloppy, and I was afraid of ruining things.

About the same time I began collecting sportswear more seriously, and so the blouse was added to my growing pile of old clothes. I especially loved the label, Catalina Play-Abouts, but since it went into the collection I really haven’t thought much about it.

But, as it so happens, I ran across a set of blouse and bathing suit of this print on etsy. I really wanted the swimsuit, but because I already had the blouse, I decided to think about it before buying. As luck would have it, someone posted just the swimsuit on Instagram, but before I could buy it, the posting disappeared.

By this time I was fairly discouraged, but not so much that I didn’t check the usual vintage venues. And there it was, on etsy, and a bit cheaper than the last one. My luck was improving.

A few days later, another set surfaced on Instagram – this time a bathing suit and matching skirt. But the print was in orange and yellow. But that started me on a further search.

I went back to etsy, and that time a skirt, in blue, surfaced. That brought my set to three matching pieces.

After posting the blouse and the bathing suit on Instagram, Liza of Better Dresses Vintage emailed some newspaper ads she found. The first one for Catalina Play-Abouts was dated 1953, and the last one was from 1960. Best of all, one from 1958 looked a lot like my bathing suit. And even more important was the information that there were also shorts and pedal pushers in the Play-Alongs lines.

After looking all over the internet, I finally found (on Pinterest) this image from a 1959 ad.  I can’t tell what the model is holding, but it might be a shawl or coverup. And I now know the print was made in a matching cabana set for guys.

The addition of this tag is also interesting. The fabric was apparently designed for Catalina, and there is also a copyright statement on the selvage of the fabric that I located in the skirt. And after looking at all the different photos of this fabric in extant garments, I noted that the bathing suits were not all the same design. There were three different suits that I have found.

The buttons on the skirt and blouse are plastic, shaped and painted to resemble bamboo. It’s a nice touch.

So the hunt for more of this line is on. I’m positive they are out there.

 

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Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949, Part II

Click to enlarge

 

In reading about the Schiaparelli for Catalina swim suit I recently bought I discovered that, according to an advertisement, that this suit was the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.” That sent me on an internet search to see if I could actually find photos of the contestants wearing this particular suit.  When I came up  empty I just assumed that it was Catalina suits in general that were the official suit of the pageant.

To my surprise and delight, I got the above photo in my inbox last night.  Julie of Jet Set Sewing saw my Schiaparelli suit and thought it looked familiar.  Then she realized that a photo of the 1948 contestants wearing the suit was hanging in her home.  Julie’s husband found the photo in a shop in Paris.

As you can see, it is the Schiaparelli swim suit, but with the addition of the Catalina flying fish logo.  And even though this was the 1948 Miss America contest, the suit was not made commercially until the next year.  Thus, all my searches for “Miss America Catalina 1949” brought up a different set of swim suits.

Even though the power of Google is great and it so often leads us to the correct information, it makes me happy that it was a friend who provided the breakthrough on this one.  Thanks, Julie!

Click to enlarge

 

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Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949

Some people might think that designer collaborations with mass market manufacturers is a new idea, but they actually go back at least to 1916 when Lucile’s – Lady Duff-Gordon – name began appearing the the Sears Roebuck catalog.  By the 1930s California swimsuit maker Catalina was calling on the designers of Hollywood films to do an occasional suit for them.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete information about the Schiaparelli for Catalina collection, except for the fact that it was in 1949.  The suits were widely advertised so there is a good record of the various suits designed by Schiaparelli.  It’s interesting that I’ve not found reference to this collaboration in any of my print sources, including Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and the catalog that accompanied the 2003 Shocking! exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In an ad in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 13, 1949, this suit was touted as the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.”

The best fitting swim suit in the county… and hailed by the nation’s prize-winning beauties!  It’s “Cable Mio,” designed by the world-famous Schiaparelli exclusively for Catalina!  White wool cables on Celanese and Lastex Knit.  It’s a convertible – can be worn with or without straps.

The design is achieved purely through the cutting of the fabric to form chevrons.  It’s amazing the effect that can be made through a bit of creative planning and stitching!

 

 

I’m sorry about of the quality of this 1949 ad.  It’s a scan of a scan…  I’m still trying to locate my original and I will post a better image when I find it.

Purchased from Ballyhoo Vintage, who always has a great selection of vintage swimwear.

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Harlequin Print Top from Catalina

Catalina is another of those great old sportswear companies that I love to find.  It was located in California, a fact that the company used in their branding.  Many of the labels brag that Catalina was a “California Creator,” and that their products were “Styled for the Stars of Hollywood.”  In the early years they were mainly a maker of bathing suits, but they moved into sportswear by the 1940s.  Especially great were the figural design sweaters they made.

I found the blouse above several weeks ago, and I’ve spent some time thinking about it.  If not for that exaggerated collar, it is pretty typical of the late 1950s and early 60s.  But that crazy collar might make someone assume that this is a product of the 70s.

It is not.  Collar aside, this shirt dates from that period of time – the late 1950s and early 1960s – when people had an ongoing love of all thing Italian.  That included harlequin prints, Sophia Loren and Emilio (Pucci) of Capri.

harlequin-inspired designs from Emilio (Pucci) of Capri from a 1957 McCall’s mini-catalog

 

Besides the styling and the fabric, the label points to an early Sixties date.  This blue label was only used for a short time at Catalina, and while I don’t know the exact dates, all the garments I have ever seen with it date from the late 1950s or early 60s.  You can see a lot of Catalina labels on the VFG Label Resource.  While the Resource does not always lead to an exact dating, it is invaluable in giving a general idea of when a particular label was used.

The rolled short sleeves and the squared-off hem with side vents are commonly seen features in casual clothing of this era.

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Catalina Sweater, 1946

The other day when I said that I enjoyed getting emails from readers who have something interesting to share, I was hoping it would inspire a few good letters.  I was not disappointed!

Sarah in California sent photos of a Catalina sweater she found.  She knew I’d like it because of the ad above, which I posted five years ago.  You see, her sweater is very similar to the one in the back of the ad, with the same pattern and the tie ends.  She says that even the fit is the same.  It’s always fun to find an ad for a vintage item, especially something like a sweater which can be pretty difficult to place a date on.

Photos courtesy of and copyright of Sarah Roussin.

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