Lots of times I pick out a book because of the illustrations. I picked up this one at my local Goodwill purely because I loved the photograph above. That’s Jane and Carl Fisher in 1909, on a “honeymoon” trip by car from Indianapolis to California. Jane was 15; Carl was twenty years older. By the time they were married Carl had made a fortune from car headlights and had built the Indianapolis Speedway. He went on to plan the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway which led to what was probably his largest project, the building of Miami Beach.
For seventeen years or so Jane was swept along in the frenzy of Carl’s ideas. Even though she divorced him in 1926, they remained friends until his death in 1939. Several years later she wrote Fabulous Hoosier, which told how Carl managed to make and lose several fortunes over his 65 years.
The story was interesting, but as usual, I read memoirs looking for the clothes. Jane did not disappoint. She told how her love of swimming led to an ad concept for the developing Miami Beach.
Unwittingly, I was the original of the Miami Beach bathing beauty that was to help make our city famous. Carl had built the Casino, with its pavilion for pleasure, sun-bathing and swimming… The first women of the Beach swam there each morning in long black stockings, bathing suits that would serve today for street dresses, and bathing shoes. Demure mop caps covered our long hair.
I had mastered the new racing stroke, the Australian crawl, and longed for greater freedom in the water. I found it in what I have been told was the first form-fitting bathing suit, with a shockingly short skirt that came only to my knees, and most daring of all, anklets instead of the modest long black stockings. The following Sunday a minister in a church on the mainland used my bathing suit – and me in it – as a symbol of the brazenness of the modern woman…
Within a few weeks of my public pillorying, not a black stocking was to be seen on the Beach… Carl told me excitedly: “By God, Jane, you’ve started something! We’ll get the prettiest girls we can find and put them in the @$@&% tightest and shortest bathing suits and no stockings or swim shoes either. We’ll have their pictures taken and send them all over the @$@&% country as “The Bathing Beauties of Miami Beach!
One of the shortcomings of the book is that Jane couldn’t commit to a chronological timeline. She’d be telling about something that happened in 1915, and then she’d skip to 1920 and then back. So the best I can tell the above story happened in 1919.
She also mentions wearing pajamas on Miami Beach.
[One visitor] expressed delight over such Miami Beach surprises as “strawberries for breakfast at Christmas and being driven about by a lady wearing pajamas.” I was the lady in pajamas – as startling in the early ‘twenties, even in freedom-loving Miami Beach, as my form-fitting bathing suit had been five years before.
Whatever was new, was mine. I had the first Irene Castle bob south of the Mason-Dixon Line, wore the first lipstick – sparingly, the first knee-high skirt, the first pajamas.
And if the bathing suit story happened in 1919, that made the pajamas-wearing happen in 1924. By that time, pajamas had shown up on European beaches, but the first sighting of pajamas on the more fashionable Palm Beach, Florida, was the winter season of 1925. In that case, Jane truly was a trendsetter.
Those lines alone were worth the price of the book and the time spent reading it.