Tag Archives: swimsuit

1930s Swimsuit with Stars and Rope

There have been a thousand (or more) articles on how to title a blog post, and after reading them all I still struggle with going with anything other than the obvious.  So because this post is about a new-to-me 1930s bathing suit, made from a great fabric of white and blue stars intertwined in a nautical-style rope, the title is pretty much a bare-bones description of the object.

The 1930s were a time of transition for women’s swimsuits.  At the beginning of the decade most suits were still being manufactured of wool knit, but by 1940 a great variety of materials were being used for bathing suits.  The invention of Lastex in 1931 was the first big change, with the elastic thread being added to the wool yarns.  By the middle of the decade Lastex was also being blended with rayon yarns.

Compared to the low-waisted styles of the 1920s, the shape of the 1930s put more emphasis on the bust.  You can see this even in bathing suits, as there is often a seam under the bustline, as you see in my suit above.

Another change one sees in 1930s bathing suits is the return to the use of woven fabrics.  Wool jersey knit made the “dressmaker” bathing suits of the 1910s and early 20 passé, but in the 1930s, the addition of a cotton jersey lining allowed for a good fit in woven fabrics.  The white shorts under the skirt of my suit is cotton jersey, as is the rest of the lining.

Because of the lack of stretch in the outer fabric, this bathing suit has a button closure on the back.  It also has a deeply scooped back to allow for suntanning.  Many evening dresses of the period also sported a deep scoop in the back, so one’s tan must match one’s gown.

At first I though the red had faded to the rusty color you see, but a close examination of unexposed areas of the fabric show that this is the original color.  And what about that texture?!

And talking about 1930s bathing suits, I just had to share this one, which is not, unfortunately, a part of my collection.  It is wool, made in Germany in the 30s.  You can see elements of both the 20s (skirt over matching trunks, all wool) and the 1930s (seam under the bust, neck ruffle).  The photo was sent to me by vintage store owner and vintage clothing collector Ingo Zahn.  Ingo owns Rocking Chair Vintage in Berlin, and was a big help when I needed a German translation a while back.  Thanks for sharing your photo, Ingo!

 

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Bad History, and a Bit about Lastex

Beauty Mask using Lastex, filed in 1933 by Ronald Giuliano

When I posted about how “the internet” is changing clothing terminology, I felt like I was a bit of a grump, and thus vowed to not to write about things that irritate me.  But an article on the fashion site, Fashionista sent me over the edge. When I saw a link to “How Today’s Biggest Swimsuit Companies Got their Start Knitting Wool” come up on Twitter , I knew better than to click to it.  I did it anyway.

I appreciate that sites like Fashionista are willing to devote space to fashion history articles.  What I don’t appreciate is the lack of fact checking and the use of freelance fashion writers instead of fashion historians.

The big issue I have with this article is this sentence:

 Starting in the mid ’20s, swimwear companies began to weave elastic, known as Lastex, into the suits, offering a far more flattering fit…

Being a collector of swimsuits, I knew I’d never seen one from the 1920s that contained Lastex, and the earliest ones I remembered being advertised were from around 1935.  Susan at Witness2Fashion wrote about Lastex last year.  The earliest use of Lastex she found was in 1932, in a Sears catalog, on a page of girdles.

So I went in search of the facts, hopefully in a well-researched article that told the history of Lastex.  I didn’t find it, but a series of rabbit holes led to the names of Percy and James Adamson.  After finding the names connected with the development of an elastic thread, the main source of information turned out to be old court documents.  It appears that the Adamsons were in court a lot.

In 1926 the brothers Adamson formed a little company hoping that Percy’s experiments with new yarns would lead to a money-maker.  In 1930 Percy was successful in making a rubber thread, wrapped with cotton or another fiber.  He filed for a patent and then in 1931, refiled as he had made improvements.  He also filed for a trademark for “Lastex”.  He then contacted the United States Rubber Company, who entered into an agreement with Percy.  US Rubber would get the trademark for Lastex, manufacture the yarn and pay the Adamson Company royalties.

There’s a lot more to the story (lawsuits…), but it really does not add to the basic story that Lastex was invented in 1930, and patented and trademarked in 1931. In looking through dozens of patents, mainly for stockings, underwear, and swimsuits, it becomes obvious that Lastex really caught on around 1934 or 35.

All this leads us back to the Fashionsta article with its problematic line.  The mid 1920s date has now been assigned  by a large fashion website to the usage of Lastex in swimsuits.  As of today the article has been shared on social media 514 times, and that does not include all the retweets, and Facebook sharing.  Yes, my blog post sets the record straight, but only a thousand or so people will read this, and I’ll be lucky if it is shared ten times on social media.

I realize the purpose of Fashionsta is to turn out fluff pieces that no one really takes seriously, but there are people who have read the article and will remember that mid 1920s date.  In one article, history is changed.  How long will it be before swimsuits containing Lastex are advertised for sale as being from the 1920s?

The article also relates the story of Annette Kellerman’s arrest on a Boston beach in 1907.  As I posted last week, there is very little documentation to support the story, although years after the fact Kellerman was fond of relating the tale.  The earliest reference that I can find to the incident is a syndicated newspaper article from November, 1932.  The information for that article came from an interview with Kellerman.  I’m not saying the arrest did not happen, but I do believe this would be a great topic for further study.

One last thing and then I’ll shut up.

…women wore swimsuits of fine ribbed wool to the beach. Typically shaped like a knee-length romper, or featuring a vest or short-sleeve top with shorts… They were only available in dark colors, with a minimum of decoration: perhaps some stripes around the knees, buttons on the shoulders or a tie at the waist.

No. Even though the most common suits were black and dark navy, other colors were definitely available.

An early 1920s bathing suit in my collection

 

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Swimming Tights by Annette Kellerman

Okay, I know that the garment above doesn’t look like a big deal, but appearances can really deceive.  In 1905 when other women around the world were wearing dress and bloomer bathing suits, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman introduced Europe to the one-piece swimming suit for women.  At the time, even most men were still wearing two-piece bathing suits, consisting of knit trunks that came to the knee with a long tee shirt on top.

But in Australia, competitive swimmers, both male and female, had begun wearing one-piece knit suits for the sport.  When Kellerman went to England in 1905 for a swimming exhibition, she found a much stricter set of rules for women swimmers.  In order to perform, she took a pair of black stockings and sewed them to her suit to provide more coverage.  She was then allowed to perform.

This 1914 ad shows the famous suit

Two years later Kellerman gained notoriety when she appeared on a beach near Boston, and was promptly arrested for indecency.  At her hearing she argued that swimming was a healthful exercise, but that bulky bathing suits did not allow one to swim.  The judge agreed, provided she agreed to wear a robe when not in the water.

Note: On the Powerhouse Museum website, the notes for an Annette Kellermann suit in their collection state, “…the story that she got herself arrested at Boston’s Revere Beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit is not supported by evidence.”  The story is often repeated, and Kellerman herself related the tale in a 1953 interview.  

By this time Kellerman was quite famous, and so the time was right to capitalize on her name.  The right deal came along in the form of Asbury Mills, who for about twenty years made Annette Kellermann swimsuits.  The early ones were very similar to what she had been wearing, but by the late 1910s, the products were more like the standard 1920s swimsuit for women.  In fact, one Australian site credits Kellerman with coming up with the one-piece suit with the attached overskirt.

My suit has a deeply scooped neck of the type Kellerman seemed to favor.  The photos of her in her very early suits show a small cap sleeve instead of my sleeveless version.

The description of the suit on the site where I found it read that the waist seam stitches were broken.  When I received the suit I realized that there was no waist seam originally and that a former owner had put the seam it to shorten it.  There was so little of the seam left that I made the decision to remove it.

Whenever I have a garment that has alterations or damage, I have to decide what, if anything, to do about it.  Many times I leave it as is, but in this case I wanted the swimsuit returned, as much as possible, to the original state.

I say as close as possible, because the seam did leave a crease and a faint faded area.

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has an extensive collection of Kellerman material, including many of the costumes she wore in movies and public performances.  Starting August 10, much of it will be on display at the museum.

You might have noticed that I used two different spellings of Annette’s name.  While she generally spelled Kellerman with one N, she did use two N’s on her label and in her books.

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Leo Narducci for Rose Marie Reid

I recently found this swimsuit from the late 1960s or early 1970s, and I bought it because of the interesting label and nice design.  It looks like a rather conservative suit from the front, but turn it around and…

you get a whole other feeling.

I wrote about Rose Marie Reid some time ago after having read a biography of her.  Rose Marie Reid sold her namesake company in 1962, but stayed on as the designer of the line.  She left the company a year later over a dispute over the bikini, which Reid thought was indecent.  The popular line continued, and around 1968 designer Leo Narducci was hired to design the line.

Narducci is not a very well-known name today, but he was well-respected as a designer in the 1960s and 70s.  Narducci graduated from the Rhode Island School of design in 1960, and went to work at LoomTogs, a sportswear company.  Over the next decade he designed for a number of firms, and in 1971 he started his own label, “specializing in soft clothes with casual outlines and elegant materials,”  according to Eleanor Lambert.  As far as I can tell, Narducci worked for Rose Marie Reid from 1968 through the early 1970s.

He also had a number of his designs made into sewing patterns by Vogue in the 1970s.  Do a search for them to see what Lambert meant by “soft clothes with casual outlines.”

This ILGWU label is more confirmation of the age of this swimsuit.  This label was changed in 1974 to include red, so it has to date before 1974.

The Rose Marie Reid company did go on to make bikinis, but the name is still associated with the covered-up but still sexy styles she created in the 1950s.  Leo Narducci is still alive, and here you can see an interview with him from two years ago.

 

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Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949, Part II

Click to enlarge

 

In reading about the Schiaparelli for Catalina swim suit I recently bought I discovered that, according to an advertisement, that this suit was the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.” That sent me on an internet search to see if I could actually find photos of the contestants wearing this particular suit.  When I came up  empty I just assumed that it was Catalina suits in general that were the official suit of the pageant.

To my surprise and delight, I got the above photo in my inbox last night.  Julie of Jet Set Sewing saw my Schiaparelli suit and thought it looked familiar.  Then she realized that a photo of the 1948 contestants wearing the suit was hanging in her home.  Julie’s husband found the photo in a shop in Paris.

As you can see, it is the Schiaparelli swim suit, but with the addition of the Catalina flying fish logo.  And even though this was the 1948 Miss America contest, the suit was not made commercially until the next year.  Thus, all my searches for “Miss America Catalina 1949” brought up a different set of swim suits.

Even though the power of Google is great and it so often leads us to the correct information, it makes me happy that it was a friend who provided the breakthrough on this one.  Thanks, Julie!

Click to enlarge

 

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Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949

Some people might think that designer collaborations with mass market manufacturers is a new idea, but they actually go back at least to 1916 when Lucile’s – Lady Duff-Gordon – name began appearing the the Sears Roebuck catalog.  By the 1930s California swimsuit maker Catalina was calling on the designers of Hollywood films to do an occasional suit for them.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete information about the Schiaparelli for Catalina collection, except for the fact that it was in 1949.  The suits were widely advertised so there is a good record of the various suits designed by Schiaparelli.  It’s interesting that I’ve not found reference to this collaboration in any of my print sources, including Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and the catalog that accompanied the 2003 Shocking! exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In an ad in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 13, 1949, this suit was touted as the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.”

The best fitting swim suit in the county… and hailed by the nation’s prize-winning beauties!  It’s “Cable Mio,” designed by the world-famous Schiaparelli exclusively for Catalina!  White wool cables on Celanese and Lastex Knit.  It’s a convertible – can be worn with or without straps.

The design is achieved purely through the cutting of the fabric to form chevrons.  It’s amazing the effect that can be made through a bit of creative planning and stitching!

 

 

I’m sorry about of the quality of this 1949 ad.  It’s a scan of a scan…  I’m still trying to locate my original and I will post a better image when I find it.

Purchased from Ballyhoo Vintage, who always has a great selection of vintage swimwear.

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Jantzen Swimsuit, Mid 1960s

I really love and appreciate all the great friends I’ve made through writing this blog.  So many of you have shared your stories about clothing and sewing, and all these stories make for a rich and varied shared history.

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Janey at The Atomic Redhead.  Janey is lucky because she lives in the land of White Stag and Pendleton and Jantzen, otherwise known as Portland, Oregon.  From time to time I’ll get an email from her saying that she has a little something I might be interested in.  I must be greedy, because I’m always interested in Janey’s gifts.

The latest package from Janey contained the two piece swimsuit shown here.  It is, of course, from Jantzen, as the diving girl logo proudly announces.  It is made from a creamy white textured polyester knit, and the bra is very structured.  Many swimsuit bras from this era were made with a thin padded layer that over time degrades into a gritty powder.  But in this bra the padding is intact and shows no sign of powdering.

Thanks to movies like Bikini Beach and Beach Party, some people tend to think that bikinis were pretty skimpy in the mid 1960s, but in my little conservative town, this two piece was about as risqué as it got.  As the decade worn on, the bottoms got smaller, and the bras less structured, but in 1965 girls’ swimsuits were like armor!

I can remember my very first “grown-up” swimsuit.  It was a hand-me-down from my cousin Arlene, who was two years older than me and who lived near Atlanta and who was my idol.  The style was just like the Jantzen here, but was in shades of greens and brown.  I’d have never picked that color combination out, but I’ll have to admit, that at eleven years old, I felt very grown up wearing that suit.

This Coppertone ad from 1964 shows the style quite well.  No bellybuttons here!

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing