Saturday, June 14, 2014

Vintage Bathing Beauties

Hi my retro lovin' peeps!

Warm weather is finally here! Gentle breezes, summer dresses, peepers peeping at night-time, beaches, gardening, backyard crafts....  

I recently re-read a couple of my all-time favorites: "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Belles on their Toes"   For those of you who have not heard or read these books,*  they chronicle the lives of the Gilbreth family - a dozen kids born to Frank & Lillian Gilbreth around the early part of the 1900's. It was written by two of their children.  Frank and Lilly were motion study experts who went into factories and figured out how to speed processes and assembly lines up.  This is kind of like the fore-runner of modern day ergonomics.  Part of what I love about these books is that they reflect the change in our culture but in an everyday sort of way -  the advent of automobiles, women in the work force, fashion changes: bobbed hair, silk stockings, teddies (the undergarments), makeup, bathing suits.   'You are not going out of the house like that'  seems like getting ones parents to accept that you want to wear the latest fashions  is a universal argument whether it is 1930 or 2014!   (* Note- none of the movies made (including the 1950 version with Myrna Loy (who is one of my most favoritest actresses in the world) does the books justice - Read them!)

One part in particular in "Belles.." (circa 1925)  talks about the changes in swimwear and how no one wore old fashioned 2 piece suits anymore.  One of the oldest daughters, Martha, forgets her swimsuit when they take their annual summer vacation to Nantucket.  She wears the under part of the Mother's Victorian era bathing suit to her sisters' horror.
["Martha was wearing what appeared to be a tight-fitting black union suit. If you looked at it closely you could tell it was the under part of Mother's suit, with the legs and sleeves rolled up as far as they would roll. It wasn't any more extreme than bathing suits other girls were wearing, but Anne and Ernestine were shocked almost beyond words."]

When the Mom finally comes to join them, she ends up purchasing new suits for the girls:
[""If it comes below my knees," said Martha, fumbling with the wrappings. "can I take a hem in it?"
"Goodness, it won't come below your knees," Mother laughed. "It's a one-piece suit."
"One piece?" Anne and Ernestine shouted together.
"No girls wear those old-fashioned two-piece suits any more, do they?" Mother asked.
"We do," said Ernestine. "Remember Dad's rules."
"Modesty, " Anne recited flatly. "Skirts at least to the knees. Black stockings. And a minimum of skin showing."
"Times change," Mother told them, "and your father would have changed with them". .....
Martha held up the suit. It was light blue, and had a low-cut neck.        .....[then]...
She handed Anne and Ernestine each a package like Martha's.] 1

This is sort of what I imagine Martha's new suit to have look like. (vintage suit from the 1920's)

Here is a red one from the same time period.

A few months ago I came across this awesome photo slideshow on The Weather Channel of all places.  They actually have some very neat videos in their archive.

The full slideshow is here:  Before the Bikini: Rare Vintage Beach Pictures  by Edecio Martinez. 

 It occurred to me that we in the modern day tend to have a notion that all vintage bathing wear was all black, multi-layered with mob caps and stockings.    While this is true of the very early part of the century (i.e. prior to 1910),   There were suits that by the teens and 1920's that weren't far off style-wise from today's one pieces.
Victorian era -Some of the costumes included a 'wool cape' to
wrap yourself in after a dip so people would not see the clingyness of your suit. 
 I think too, that Europe may have been a little further ahead of the fashion curve, as many of their earlier suits seemed more revealing, or perhaps America was just more modest as a culture.

1929 - Officer in Florida measuring to make sure not too much skin was showing.
Beach censor regulations had been put in place
"In 1907, a scandal erupted when Australian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, the first woman to swim across the English Channel, was arrested in Boston for wearing a more form-fitting, one-piece suit".
This was circa 1912,  you can see that the suits are more form fitting, and the gal on the left is sans stockings!
I absolutely love the polka-dot print of the suit on the right.
I found this on pinterest. It's a navy colored bathing suit circa 1915.  I LOVE this!  it is totally adorable

This next selection of pictures is from the late 1920's.  The suits are all one piece and seem to bear a closer resemblance to what we see today.  Note there are color variations from the plain black or dark material of a generation ago.  Also, check out the strappy shoes & short stockings in 
pictures 1 & 2 - they couldn't have been that comfy in the sand.....    The lady in picture 3 has a pearl necklace and some decolletage going on. Makes you wonder if she was there to swim or 
check out the action!

Another invention that was prevalent in the Victorian Era was the Bathing Machine.      These were basically large wheeled changing booths that were pulled into the low surf, some horse drawn or pulled by attendants.  A person changed inside and exited to swim.  These were mostly prevalent during the 1800's, when men and women were segregated to swim (because it was improper for one to view the opposite sex in their bathing attire at the time).   Apparently some beaches hired a 'dipper' - someone to help bathers into and out of the Bathing Machines.  Some 'dippers' would yank the bathers into the water, supposed to be part of the complete bathing experience!   The bathing machines were used up until the first decade of the 1900's, at which time it was becoming more common for men & women to swim together.

And here are a few Bathing costumes that I especially liked....
Bathing Pajamas!  because they are as much fun to say as they are to wear!

maybe I'm just a sucker for a large pom-pom hat....

I love the patterned suit on the left. Check out the recessed gores too!
And again with the strappy shoes at the beach, that's got to be uncomfortable.

While this I believe was a 'professional' photo,  I still love the striped underlay and the large flower motif.

And here is something for those of you who like to incorporate vintage into your home decor:

These are actual vintage bathing suits that have been framed.   (complete article can be found on "Completely Coastal" blog.)

And a slightly more understated approach from

 Have you ever tried wearing vintage swimwear? Decorating with it?  Would love to hear your thoughs in the comments!    So glad you could stop by my blog.

xo Yvonne


1:  Belles on Their Toes,  Frank B Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey,  p.52 & p. 68-70

      Thomas Y. Crowell Co.; c. 1950

(note - Belles on Their Toes chronicled the life of the Gilbreth family after their father Frank had passed away from a heart condition).

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