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