Tag Archives: Cole of California

Cole Cuts Newsletter for Cole of California

I recently added twenty-two copies of swimsuit maker Cole of California’s company newsletter from the 1960s to my archive. I have found old newsletters before, as it was a pretty common practice for large companies to share news of the company and workers this way. The pulp and paper factory in my hometown had a newsletter called Chips (get it; wood pulp made from wood chips). Puns must have been popular in naming newsletters, as Cole’s was called Cole Cuts.

Like most of the company newsletters I’ve seen, Cole Cuts was a gossipy, amateurish affair.  The covers were usually cut and pasted motivational content from other sources, but the interior content reveals a wealth of information about Cole and its workers.  The pay must have been fairly decent, because many of the employees took vacations across the country, and even to Europe.  Every month there was a listing of who was driving new cars!

Cole of California actually started as the West Coast Manchester Knitting Mills, a maker of men’s long johns. When the owners’ son, Fred Cole, joined the family business in the mid 1920s, he switched over to making knit bathing suits.  The biggest change came in 1936 when Cole hired designer Margit Fellegi to design bathing suits with a California/Hollywood look. In 1937 they added clothes to match the bathing suits: skirts, jackets, and dresses.

In each newsletter there is a profile of a long term employee. In telling this employee’s story, a lot of company history is revealed. For instance, one profile mentioned that in the late 1930s scraps of fabric left over from the cutting of the clothes were used to make matching shoes. Most interestingly, most of the workers profiled started working at Cole in 1942 or 1943. They joined Cole to make parachutes for the war effort, and ended up staying at Cole after the war work ended.

Also interesting is what the newsletter does not say.  In twenty-two issues I could find only one mention of Fred Cole, and that was in a profile of his daughter Anne Cole. I don’t have every issue, so surely his death in 1964 was mentioned, but by and large, he goes unnoted.

On the other hand, the designer Fred Cole hired to remake Cole’s image, Margit Fellegi, is mentioned in most issues. During WWII Fellegi designed the Swoon Suit. It was two pieces, and was held together with laces on the side of the trunks. No rubber was used due to wartime restrictions. My suit above is not a true Swoon Suit, but is a tamer post-war version.

In 1965, the newsletter compared the public’s reaction to the Swoon Suit to the most recent Fellegi creation – the Scandal Suit . The Scandal Suit was mentioned a lot in 1964 and 1965.

That’s Margit Fellegi on the left, along with assistant designer Barbara Meyer, in December of 1967. By that time Cole had five divisions, all with a design staff. Their top of the line was the misses department, along with sportswear and juniors, and two separate labels, Sandcastle and Sea Star. Sea Star was actually made for and sold by Sears.

From reading Cole Cuts and looking at the many photos of workers, I was amazed at the diverseness of the staff. In the tidbits about workers, it often mentioned from where the employee came. Cole had workers from across the globe and the USA. There were many Hispanic workers, especially at their plant in Pico. In fact, the news from Pico was printed in Spanish.

My newsletters date from 1964 to 1969. By reading carefully one can begin to see hints of big changes ahead. The newsletter above brags about automation coming to Cole, but over the years automation has led to the elimination of thousands of jobs in manufacturing. And in one revealing note from 1968, we can see the beginnings of manufacturing moving off shore. Two company executives visited Japan and Hong Kong “where they visited factories who are manufacturing certain items in our lines, and also looked for new fabrics…”

Cole of California was first sold in 1960, to Kayser-Roth. Since then it has changed hands several times, and today you can still buy a Cole bathing suit. I imagine that the folksy newsletter is long, long gone though. And I wonder what happened to their archive.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, World War II

Novelty Bathing Caps – 1960s

One of the greatest things about studying fashion history is that there is always something new to discover. Just when you think you have seen it all from an era, something like the swim cap above pops into your etsy  suggestions. Yes, this is a bathing cap, made from acrylic yarn fused to a rubber base.

For those of you not around in the 1960s, bathing caps were on their way out, but archaic rules about women’s hair made them mandatory in many public pools. I can remember that my public pool had such a rule, but as men’s hair grew longer in the mid 60s, we began ignoring it. After all, many of the boys had hair longer than that of some girls. There was no big protest, but the caps quickly disappeared after about 1964.

I was hoping to find an ad for this pigtail cap, as there is a brand name – Cole of California – in the cap. Unfortunately, I came up empty, so I decided to think about style. When were pigtails fashionable? It seems odd that any adult would put little girl braids in her hair, but in the time of little girl looks, also known as the mid 1960s, pretty much anything youthful went. I wore my hair in pigtails, and not when I was seven. I was probably around twelve, now that I think about it.

So starting with the year 1967, the year I turned twelve, I did some research. To be honest, I spent a few pleasurable hours looking through 1967 and 68 Seventeen, Teen, and Glamour magazines. What I discovered was that 1967 does seem to be the year of the pigtail. I found examples in all three magazines, and the December, 1967 Glamour even had a young woman in pigtails on the cover. So I feel pretty confident in dating this cap to 1967.

Here is how the yarn is attached to the rubber. There are no stitches in the rubber. This is more like a rubber thread that is fused on the cap to hold the yarn in place.

Cole advertised in the major fashion magazines, so I’m holding out hope that original ad can be found.

The second cap is just as interesting, but in a more sophisticated manner. If you are one of those persons who feels naked when not wearing earrings, this is the cap for you.

I’ve seen swim caps that were molded to look like hair in catalogs and ads as far back as the 1930s. This one is newer, but when exactly? The biggest clues are the earrings. At first glance I’d be tempted to say 1970s, but by then the swim cap was pretty much over except in pools in retirement villages in Florida. So when were dangly earrings popular?

I found lots of long earrings around 1962 and 1963. Could that be when this cap was made? I’m not nearly as confident in dating this one.

Here’s a close-up of the earrings. The dangles are little fake coins. And look at how they are attached. It has to be some kind of miracle that this survived intact. I’m guessing that it wasn’t worn very much. Maybe it was just too outré.

Unfortunately there is no maker’s imprint. To be honest, this looks to me to be the type of thing that was advertised in the cheap ads in the backs of fashion magazines. Maybe this came from the swim cap equivalent of Frederick’s of Hollywood.

As always, your opinions are welcomed and appreciated.


Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

Ad Campaign – Cole of California, 1946

Sun Colors by Cole of California, from our Westward to the Sea Collection

Maybe it’s the long hair, but at first glance something about this ad looks decidedly more modern than 1946.  Substitute a pair of bikini bottoms for those briefs, and my guess might be 1972.

But even though that long flowing hair was not the height of fashion in 1946, there was a pop culture reference for it.  The models are both posed a lot like actress Dorothy Lamour, whose exotic image might fit in perfectly with a swimsuit campaign, whether or not she was actually used in the ad!


Filed under Advertisements

Thrift Store Scandal!

Scandal, as in Scandal Suit, the earth-shattering 1964 design by Margit Fellegi for Cole of California.  At the time, Lycra was still new, and it was the development of new fabrics containing Lycra that enabled Fellegi to make this suit – so bare, yet so covered up.

The Scandal was basicly just a maillot with strategic bits made from a fabric containing Lycra, and cut outs being replaced with a stretchy mesh.  Fellegi worked with fabric makers for months developing both mesh and fabric, and the result was that she was able to “slice up the body any way I want to.”

The first of the Scandal suits were shown to Cole sales representatives in September of 1964.  The show was stunning, and many salesmen declared it would not fly in the more conservative parts of the country.  But Cole was committed, with a huge ad compaign already in the works, an ad campaign centered around the line, “Isn’t it time somebody created an absolutely wild scandal for nice girls?”  This line was uttered by a young lady perched on a brass bed on a beach.  Yes, this was scandalous in 1965!

It was also successful.  The suit was on the cover of the New York Times, and featured in an article in Life magazine.  Imitations soon flooded the market.  It seems as if American women were ready to be a litle daring!

The suit was made in all black, and it was made in the above print and a similar print in black and white with black mesh.

I’ve been looking for one of these for years, and yesterday, I plucked this off the rack of an ultra-conservative group’s thrift store.  Bet they didn’t know the scandalous story behind this one!


Posted by Couture Allure:

What a great find! Lucky you!!!!

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 9:41 AM

Posted by Catwalk Creative:

Not for the faint hearted this one! A brilliant find and a very entertaining read.

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 11:45 AM

Posted by Brenda:

Awesome Lizzie! That is both way hot and way cool at the same time. As always, thanks for sharing your great finds!

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 12:32 PM

Posted by glamoursurf:

needs to go shopping with Lizzie! 😉

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 1:47 PM

Posted by Chris Anderson:

I would have screamed if I found that fabulous bathing suit!!! Its great that things sometimes find their rightful owner. NOw are you gonna wear it????

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 2:14 PM

Posted by Joules:

Oooh La Lizzie!
It’s funny that you found it at the very “firm” thrift shop. (That’s my word, for really conservative.)

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 4:00 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Me wear? I really don’t think so!!!

Friday, May 15th 2009 @ 5:29 PM

Posted by MS:

I also want to go shopping with Lizzie!Nice find!

Saturday, May 16th 2009 @ 7:44 AM

Posted by Lucitebox:

I, too, have been looking for one of these for years. I hope there was, at the very least, some Christian rock playing when you found it.

Friday, May 22nd 2009 @ 7:52 AM


Filed under Collecting, Designers, Shopping, Sportswear, Summer Sports