Tag Archives: swim cap

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 – Howland Swim Caps, 1952

Soft, Lovely, Dry Hair Thanks to 

U.S. Howland Hair-Dry Swim Caps

1 Incurving V-Ribs keep water out!

2 Watertight suction band seals hair in!

3  Small, medium, and large sizes assure perfect fit.  Special size for children.

Swim and dive all you like, Howland protection stays with you.  Buy U.S. Howland Swim Caps wherever bathing accessories are sold – in Chartreuse, Red, Yellow, Blue, and White.

Note that the “in-curving ribs” are patented.  Whether or not the ribs actually worked is another matter, but  patents are good because patent numbers are often found inside swim caps  and are a useful tool in dating an otherwise tricky item.  Just remember that the date is not necessarily the date the item was made; it is the earliest possible date of manufacture.

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Pink 1950s Jantzen Diving Belle

What the heck is a diving belle, you ask?  It was Jantzen’s name for their swim caps, a cutesy name if there ever was one.  Most of the ones I’ve seen show a real effort to pretty up what many consider to be an unflattering thing.  They added flowers and ruffles and bows and embossing.

The one I’m showing off today is a great example.  The attached rubber flowers detracted from the bald-look of a plain cap.  This type of decoration was common in the 1950s and 60s.

The big problem with many vintage swim caps with applied decoration is that the decorations are often in bad condition.  If exposure to saltwater and chlorine were not enough,  60 years of storage, often in hot attics or damp basements, was the destroyer of many rubber caps.

So, luckily for me, one of my favorite online sellers, Small Earth Vintage, recently listed this one on etsy.  From Karen’s photos I could tell that I’d finally found the excellent condition cap I’d been searching for, at a reasonable price.

I don’t shop a lot online, mainly because to me it is the actual hunt for vintage that is the most fun.  But  I love stumbling across something wonderful on etsy or on other websites, and if it is a seller I know and trust, I don’t hesitate to buy.

Those ridges are supposed to form a seal to keep water out.  They usually did not work very well.

Swim caps always look strange on mannequin heads because their ears do not flatten like a real person’s does.  That’s part of the reason swim caps are so uncomfortable; they scrunch in the ears.



Filed under Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Vintage Swim Cap Serendipity

To a vintage collector, one of the best things is finding an item in print, and then seeing the actual object.  In this case, it is a virtual seeing, but still it is enough to bring a smile.

I’ve been looking closely at swim or bathing caps, trying to find a few to match up with some bathing suits in my collection that are in need of the proper headwear.  In doing do I ran across a very nice cap on etsy – one that looked vaguely familiar.  In looking back at prior posts on swim caps, I realized where I’d seen it.

I posted this ad from U.S. Rubber last June.  It is from 1958, and says the following about the “lace” cap:

Look at the wonderful new things that have happened to swim caps… Chantilly Lace in new feather-light, divinely comfortable U.S. Aquafoam

Luckily for collectors today, the rubber makers kept trying to make an unattractive item look more desirable to women.  Their experimentation is our gain in the variety and novelty of the swim caps manufactured in the 1950s.  Thanks, U.S. Rubber!

And thanks to etsy seller IngridIceland for the use of her photos.


Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Ad Campaign: Kleinert’s Sava-Wave, 1952

Only Kleinert’s SAVA-WAVE Swim Cap has the Magic Inner Rim!  Guaranteed to keep your hair dry

I get something on my mind, and it becomes the latest vintage obsession.  Lately it has been swim caps.  I have a few of them, but lately I’ve been looking to fill in a few gaps in my collection.  So expect to see more on this theme in the next few days.

 This week’s ad is from Kleinert’s, which specialized in rubber goods of all sorts.  Or I should say specialize, as they are still in business.   A couple of years ago I wrote a little history of the company.  You can read it, and view a 1930s Kleinert’s brochure, if you so wish.


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Ad Campaign – 1958 Bathing Caps

Blossom out in flattering flowering Swim Caps by Kleinerts.  Cap your curls in these beauties and never worry your head about waves!  Hair stays dry for sure…

Look at the wonderful new things that have happened to swim caps.  Fabulous new textures… beautiful new designs… an array of colors to set the beach ablaze with a never before kind of swim cap flattery.

Two different ads with two different approaches to selling swim caps, but note how both use the word flatter, and both have cap-covered heads sticking out of the water.  Both ads appeared in the June, 1958 editions of American magazines.


Filed under Advertisements, Summer Sports

US Rubber Swim Cap, Circa 1960

My shopping time in St. Louis was severely limited, but I did manage to visit a nice antique mall that was across the road from our motel (now how did THAT happen?)  and I did find an item I had to take home with me – a black swim cap covered with shiny vinyl “hair.”  In the title I dated it at 1960, but these were being made in the the mid 1950s through the mid 60s.

In the 50s bathing caps became quite ornate, with applied decorations such as you see in my new cap, and with designs molded into the rubber of the cap.  These continued to be popular until the increasingly casual nature of hair styles in the 60s changed the status of the swim cap from necessary accessory to old-fashioned has-been.

Parents and our local pool officials tried to convince us in the late 60s that swim caps were necessary for girls.  The only problem with their argument was that by that time many boys had hair longer than the girls and no one was trying to make them stuff their heads into hot rubber bags!  So swim caps were left to the competitive swimmers and the grandmas with their salon-styled hairdos.

As much as I hated swim caps as a child, I adore them today.  As a collector of sportswear I can tell you that I’m a whole lot more likely to find a super swimsuit in good condition than I am to find a vintage swim cap that is not cracked, yellowed or just plain melted and trashed.  Rubber does not age well, especially when put in the temperature extremes often found in the storage areas of homes.   I found a really nice one several years ago that the seller was displaying on a headform, and when she removed it to sell it to me, the darn thing split in two pieces.

If you are looking to buy vintage bathing caps, always check carefully for any cracks or brittleness in the rubber.  Trust me, a cap with a hole is getting ready to split, and should never be put on a headform (or a head!).  Also, areas of discoloration can be an indication that the cap has been stored exposed to heat or light.  Proceed with caution.

I’ve heard all kinds of stories about women who have found the perfect swim cap to wear to a vintage themed event, only to have it self-destruct in the middle of the festivities.  I’m of the opinion that these are just too fragile to attempt wearing.  The good news is that vintage style caps are readily available, and are much cheaper than vintage ones.

If you run across a cap that looks vintage, look inside to see where it was made.  Most of the vintage caps I’ve handled were made in Great Britain, the United States or Spain.

This similar cap was featured in the June, 1958 issue of Glamour.  It was made by Kleinerts, a leader in the bathing cap industry for many years.  They are still in business, but unfortunately no long make swim caps.


Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing