Tag Archives: social issues

1940s Graff Bathing Suit

I bought this bathing suit some years ago.  According to the seller it was once the property of actress June Allyson, but she had no concrete proof of that provenance, and despite looking at hundreds of photos of Allyson, I’ve never spotted it on her.  But no matter.  I’d have bought the suit regardless.

In the late 1930s swimsuit makers were finally addressing the problems associated with using wool as the fiber of swimsuits.  Men’s swimwear had long been made of wool knit, and in the late 1910s women began wearing knit suits as well.  There were lots of problems with these wool knit suits.  They fit when dry, but sagged and stretched when wet.  They were scratchy.  And they were prone to embarrassing holes.

In the mid 1930s the fit issues were addressed when Lastex was added to the wool.  Lastex is a specially produced yarn that has an elastic core.  It held the shape of the wool, even when wet.  Lastex was soon used with other fibers, and a rayon blend that looked like satin became popular for swimwear.

At the same time, manufacturers began to turn to woven cotton as a swimsuit material.  It was not as flexible as knit fabrics, but not everyone who puts on a bathing suit is wanting to swim.  Sometimes a wearer just wanted to look attractive at the beach or around the pool.

Yes, I’d say this suit was more for sunning than for swimming.  It is lined in a white cotton knit which would hug the body when in the water, and provide the necessary coverage under the pleated shorts.   It buttons up the back, and the straps can be tied, as I’ve shown, or they can be crossed and snapped at the waist.

Graff was one of the lesser known Hollywood sportswear brands.  They continued in business through the 1970s .  How about that cacti motif?

As pretty and colorful as this bathing suit is, it also holds interest as a record of the easy acceptance of racial and cultural stereotypes.  Spend any time looking at magazines, movies, or even textiles from the 1940s and you will see how prevalent all types of stereotyping were.

I think sometimes we look at the past with rose-colored glasses, that we romanticize the past, thinking it was really a simpler time.  And perhaps in some ways it was, but perhaps not so much so if you were of a racial minority or were a woman.

While it is still easy today to find examples of ads and media that perpetuate all kinds of stereotypes ( former VP Dick Cheney cracking hillbilly jokes, the objectification of women in music videos, the Chief Wahoo mascot) at least there are conversations that are addressing these issues.   In the 1940s, a famous actress could have worn this and not an eye would have been batted.  Today, I post photos of it, and know I can’t just ignore the images without talking about them.  I hope this shows some progress in human understanding.

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Playing the Gossip Game

I bet you have seen the photo above.  Last week it was the viral image du jour for about four days after being posted on Facebook on a page called Women’s Rights News.   The “conversation” of name-calling and childishness that seems to make up most social media discussions ensued, with “real women” yelling “YES”, and thin women yelling, “And ain’t I a woman,” and nutritionists calmly asserting that fat mannequins would lead to acceptance of fat in our society.

Other than to say that I think mannequins should be 5’1″ , be a size 8 and be 58 years old just like me, I can’t add a lot to that conversation.   It has died down now anyway, but I’m sure it will resurface at a later date with the same old, same old.

When I was a kid there was a game we played at school called “Gossip”.  It took about 5 or 6 kids to play.  The first kid thought up a sentence and whispered it in the ear of the second kid who whispered what she heard in the ear of the third kid, and so on until it reached the end of the group, and the last kid said the sentence out loud.  By the time the sentence got to the last kid it was, of course, nothing like the original sentence, and we always laughed as though we’d not know that the end result would be so twisted.

And that brings me to what passes for news reporting today.

By the end of last week, whenever that photo popped up in my internet reading, I just skipped over that article or blog, thinking I’d read it all, but when it appeared on Worn Through on Thursday  I decided to read.   Arianna Funk presented a side of this photo that I had not noticed, and that is the origin of the photo.

When the person at Women’s Rights News posted the photo, she or he only said that it was from a store in Sweden.  After the photo picked up steam, it was reported by some news site that read “Sweden” and saw “H&M”.   It was then widely reported that the photo was recently taken in an H&M store, but then H&M denied that the mannequins were theirs.  Finally, four days later, a reader informed the Huffington Post that the photo was from another Swedish store, Åhléns.

So every news agency updated the story, but by then everyone had lost interest and had moved on the the next hot topic.   But no one had reported who actually took the photo, and when.  At this point I’ve got to stop and wonder why none of the reporting groups bothered to do an image search?  Google can magically read a photo and detect its presence on other sites.  I’m guessing that by the time anyone thought to search for it, the photo was so splattered across the web that the original source was deeply buried on page 537 of the search results.

But eventually ownership was claimed, by Swedish blogger  Rebecka Silvekroon who had taken the photo and posted it on her blog in 2010.  That’s right, this “news” item was originally posted two and a half years ago.  Silvekroon is now trying to reclaim her lost fifteen minutes of fame by making a website devoted to the issue of body size in mannequins.  I wish her well, because I really think the person who took the photo from Silvekroon’s site without a mention of her was not only stealing, but has also deprived internet readers of the entire story.

In our facebook/pinterest/tumblr culture, images become separated from their original context, thus losing much of their meaning.  In this case, the point could be made that larger mannequins have been used in Sweden for at least two and a half years, and it does not seem to have made Swedish women any fatter.  Or the question could have been asked, why are the mannequins accepted in Sweden  and not here in the US where women are heavier, on the average, than are Swedish women.  But instead of bringing up some fresh issues that are valid, we were inundated with the same skinny vs. fat debate.

Not that the debate is not valid, but why do we insist on the same old single-faceted arguments?

All this has taught me a lesson.  Had Silvekroon watermarked her photo, it would have been impossible to ignore that the image came from her site.  I’ve resisted watermarking my photos, first because I fear it would be distracting, and secondly because I don’t take my photos very seriously.  I’m not a photographer, and I know that the quality of what I present here is not going to win a prize of any sort.  But, the photos are mine, and it does irritate to see one of them on another site with no mention of The Vintage Traveler.

So after years of resisting, I’m seriously thinking about watermarking all my original photos.   Do any of you use a watermark program?  I’m looking for ideas.

Photo copyright Rebecka Silvekroon

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