One of the great things about collecting more recent eras of fashion is that there is so much choice. On the other hand, the existence of so much stuff from the past sixty years or so means that a collector has to really be careful in buying so as not to be distracted by all the choices. I’ve written before about how I really try to limit my acquisitions to the very best examples possible. When it comes to sportswear from the mid 1950s and younger, it pays to be patient and to wait until something really special hits the market.
Spend some time looking at old ads from the past and you’ll quickly see that bathing suit companies didn’t just make bathing suits. All sorts of accessories and matching garments were available to the swimsuit shopper. One such garment was the matching cover-up.
I spotted this set some time ago, and I really fell for it. Not only was the set never worn, but there were three matching pieces. The label was one that was not represented in my collection, and the price was fair.
Elisabeth Stewart was the daughter of Catalina swimsuits owner, Ed Stewart. When Ed sold Catalina in 1956, Elisabeth and her brothers, David and Bill Stewart, opened their own bathing suit business in Los Angeles. At that time swimsuit styles (along with fashion in general) were beginning to change. The hourglass New Look was fading, and straighter lines were showing up. Elisabeth Stewart’s swimsuits reflected this change.
This style bathing suit, with the straight across bodice attached to shorts was made popular by designer Tina Leser who was making swimsuits for Gabar. Leser was adept at making bathing suits that gave women a bit more coverage. The style must have struck a chord with women because it remains available today, sixty years later.
But the real icing on this bathing suit cake is this matching hat. It looks rather silly on, but it brings out a facet of the set that didn’t really occur to me until I saw the hat on the mannequin. It appears to me that this suit was inspired by the old-fashioned men’s Edwardian striped knit bathing suits, along with the caps worn by Edwardian women bathers.
The label I’m showing is in the hat. Tapoo Hawes was Bill Hawes, a maker of sports hats. The first reference I’ve found to Tapoo was in 1952, in Jet. By looking at some of the hats by Hawes I found for sale, I’d say he continued in business into the 1970s.
Finally, go back to my first photo to make sure you noticed how the design of the fabric was actually achieved through seams. Just beautiful!