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Sportswear Workshop ~ Part 1: Intro and Bathing Suits

Discussion in 'Sportswear 2008 by Fuzzylizzie' started by fuzzylizzie, May 30, 2008.

  1. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Hello all, and welcome to the Development of Women's Sportswear Workshop. These workshops are very informal affairs. You can read my posts and then add your own thoughts and pictures. Honestly, the more of you who contribute, the more fun a workshop is. And we have plenty of time as the workshop will be open to posts through most of the week.

    I'll be starting in the 19th century and finishing in the 1960s when sportswear had become pretty much standard dressing in the Western World.

    I'll be mentioning menswear from time to time, but the evolution of men's sportswear is quite different from that of women's. However, the two can't be completely separated, as so much women's sportswear was based on what men had already been wearing.

    Various sports will be discussed, but one sport that I'll mention only briefly is riding. Equestrian clothing dates to an earlier era than other sportswear, and tradition played a much greater role in riding clothing than did fashion or social change. But the main reason I'll be pretty much ignoring riding is that Lei ~ Crinolinegirl has done a great job of it already for the VFG Equestrian Gallery.

    The story is long, and I've divided the workshop into three sections. I'll start today with some SHORT historical background, and move into the development of the bathing suit. Tomorrow's topic will be sportswear worn in private situations, and I'll finish up on Wednesday with public sportswear and how the term "sportswear" became "casual wear."

    Please have your questions, comments and especially, your photos ready to share.

    NOTE: Unless credited, all images are from my collection are are copyrighted.
  2. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Historical Background

    You really don't have to read this part, but I want to point out that sportswear didn't just spring forth from the minds of basketball players and golfers! Lots of things had to happen before Western women could break the tradition of skirts only.

    There are several historical factors that led to the development of the first sportswear. Until the middle of the 19 century there were few people outside the European upper classes who actively participated in sports as we know them. But starting about 1830 there were rapid changes that eventually led to women participating in sports and in special clothing being developed for sports. These events happened concurrently, and they were often interrelated.

    1. The Industrial Revolution The invention of the steam engine and the spread of rail travel allowed people to make pleasure excursions to the mountains, beaches and lakes. The sewing machine and the machinery that made possible mass-produced fabrics led to cheaper clothing. The invention of household machines led to an increased leisure for women. The steamship allowed more immigrants into the US, who brought with them European sports, including gymnastics, golf, and skiing. And on and on....

    2. The Labor Movement The passage of laws that limited the working hours led to increased leisure for the middle and working classes.

    3. Mass Media Improvements in paper manufacture led to a boom in magazine production. These magazines were fundamental in spreading fads and in producing trends. And as an off-shoot, the sewing pattern was developed in 1860 by Ellen Demorest, and was sold through her magazine, Mme. Demorest's Mirror of Fashion.

    4. The Women's Dress Reform Movement This movement was closely tied to the Temperance and Women's Right's movements. In 1851, Amelia Bloomer advocated the wearing of a shortened dress over the top of trousers. The trousers were often gathered at the ankles, and this style became known as "Bloomers." This well-known foot-note of fashion history seemed to have no immediate effect on main-stream fashion, but we will see that it did have an effect on sportswear.

    5. Growing Concern about Health Issues In the 1830s there was a growing awareness of the connection between health and exercise. Doctors and writers began encouraging exercise as a way of maintaining one's health.

    6. The Rise of Women's Colleges Exercise became an important part of the curriculum in the new colleges that were for women only. In these segregated environments women first began wearing clothing that was practical for exercise, namely, bloomers. This costume was passed down to their younger sisters with the development of the first summer camps for girls around the turn of the century.

    So, how did these historical and social issues lead women to wear special sports clothing? We'll start by looking at the bathing suit.
  3. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    The Bathing Suit

    One of the first specialized sports garments to be developed was the bathing suit. As the popularity of seaside visits increased, so did the popularity of "bathing." In the first half of the 19th century, beaches had either separate sections for men and women, or they had some hours designated for men and others for women. In Europe, a dressing room on wheels (called a bathing machine) was being used, in which women changed into a long, heavy chemise-like garment, were wheeled out into the water, and then were lifted out into the water to bathe. These machines were introduced into America, but did not really catch on. In time men and women began bathing together at American beaches.

    About the time that Amelia Bloomer came out with her reform costume, a very similar bathing costume began appearing in fashion magazines and on American beaches. I think it is too much of a coincidence not to conclude that the bathing suit was directly influenced by Mrs. Bloomer's costume.

    from the collection of the Seneca Falls Historical Society

    Originally, the swimming bloomers reached the ankles, and the overdress was a few inches above, but as the 19th century progressed, both bloomers and dress got shorter. Still, the wearer wore black stockings and bathing shoes or boots, along with a cap and sometimes even gloves. Until the 20th century, many women actually wore a corset beneath her bathing suit.

    An 1870s fashion plate

    At first glance, 19th century bathing suits do not seem to follow fashion, but there were concessions . As short sleeves on dresses became fashionable, the bathing suit also sported short sleeves. Skirts narrowed after 1875, and so did the bathing dress. And the introduction into the US of British and French bathing suits (which were not as modest as those in the US due to continued separate sex bathing) caused the dress and bloomers to join into one piece and to be shortened to the knee.

    Edwardian bathers at the shore

    The 19th century bathing suit was usually made from dark colored wool, though vintage fashion plates and photos sometimes show them in white or light colors. Because of modest concerns, light colors were not often used, as the water tended to make them a bit transparent. By the end of the century, the typical bathing suit was black or navy, decorated with white of red braid, and often had a nautical look, the blouse being fashioned after a sailor's middy blouse.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimphotos/atlanticity2.jpg>
    An Atlantic City studio shot, c, 1908

    20th Century Bathing Suits

    As Americans moved into the new century, the bathing costume remained pretty much unchanged for another decade. But as the 1910s progressed, several things led to a shrinking of the suit. As more and more people had the time and means to visit beaches and swimming areas, suntanning became fashionable. For some time men had been wearing bathing suits made from wool jersey knit. In the 1910s women who swam competitively adopted men's suits that were sleeveless and which had a short skirt attached over the legs of the suit.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/plaidswimcap.jpg> <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swim11.jpg><img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swimboots.jpg>
    This suit was trademarked 1911. It's the "Swim-easy."

    By 1918, women's bathing suits were usually sleeveless and were considerably above the knee. A woman could buy a jersey knit bathing dress with attached shorts, or the dress might be made from woven wool or silk and have a ruffled skirt.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/20sbathingcap.jpg><img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/1920suit.jpg><img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/bathingshoe 002.jpg>
    Late teens or early 20s suit with accessories

    Either way, the swim dress was much smaller, and it continued to shrink throughout the 1920s. By the mid 20s women were wearing suits very similar to those worn by men - a one piece knit tank and trunks with an overskirt.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swimred.jpg>
    A late 1920s suit

    In the 20s, the swimwear industry was booming, and several companies saw an opportunity and seized it. Knitwear companies that had been making sweaters, underwear and knit gloves changed over to making swimwear. It was during this time that swimsuit giants Catalina, Cole of California and Jantzen were born. All three companies were located on the west coast of the US, and this helped establish that area as a leader in the sportswear industry.

    By the 1930s, the overskirt was going and around 1932, men started going "topless" for the first time. Swimsuits were still being made from wool, and there were some serious fit issues, as the wool lost elasticity when wet. This problem was solved with the introduction of Lastex in the mid 30s. The elastic fibre was used first in wool knit blends but soon woven fabrics were developed using it. The woven fabrics, similar to those being used in the making of corsets, soon made the old woolen knit suits passe.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/jantzen30s 001.jpg> <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/jantzen30sad.jpg>
    1936 Jantzen suit, wool with Lastex and a photo from an ad for it. This type suit was on the way OUT!

    Because so much of the swimsuit industry was located near the film industry, it began to take on a glamorous air. Stars and Hollywood designers were used to advertise and promote the latest in swimwear. Hollywood stars showed their stuff in swimsuit publicity shots.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/catalina36.jpg>
    1936 Catalina ad with Olivia de Havilland and Orry Kelly

    In the late 30s and into the 40s swimwear began to diversify. The two-piece appeared around 1937, though it really did not gain acceptance until a few years later. Also bathing suits were starting to be made from "fashion" fabrics - popular prints and cottons formerly reserved for dressmaking.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swim2piece37.jpg>

    A very modest 1937 2 piece suit

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swim40.jpg> 1940s dressmaker suit

    During World War II, much of the swimwear industry was involved in the war effort, but there were some interesting developments. This was when the 2 piece suit really became popular. Due to fabric rationing, it became patriotic to sport less clothing while bathing. The US government mandated that bathing suits were to be made with at least 10% less fabric, and so the midsection was eliminated. Also, bra tops became fashionable for other casual wear, usually paired with cute wide legged shorts.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swim2piece45.jpg>
    1945 2 piece swimsuits.

    The bikini is credited to the French: designer Jacques Heim designed a very skimpy suit, the atome, in 1946. About the same time, Frenchman Louis Reard came up with an even smaller suit, the bikini.

    Dorothea's Closet has a wonderful early French bikini for sale.

    As fashion moved into the New Look, so did the swimsuit. Many companies made swimwear that were styled very much like the evening wear of the period. And women who found the Baby Boom was taking a toll on their figures loved the structured lastex suits and the playsuit types that provided more coverage.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swim50sbomb.jpg>
    Lastex to hold you in ...
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/plaidswim002.jpg>
    Ruffles to cover you up!

    Even though the Bikini was "invented" in France in 1946, it wasn't until the early 1960s that it became the swimsuit of choice for the young. Again, there was a strong Hollywood connection, as popular actors and actresses were featured in "Beach Movies."

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swim60.jpg>
    Early 60s 2 piece swimsuit

    By the mid 60s it was obvious the the swimsuit was going to shrink even further, although Rudi Gernreich's famous "topless" monokini never caught on with the general public. After the 60s, suits got smaller and smaller, until today one has the choice of a highly engineered suit that covers quite nicely - or a bit of string with three triangles that leaves very little to the imagination.

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swim70.jpg>
    mid-late 60s bikini

    I haven't gone into specific designers and makers mainly because this information is readily available on the Label Resource. Here are links to some of the largest swimwear makers, most of whom were located in California:

    Alix of Miami

    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/box/bradleybox 001.jpg>
    From a Bradley box
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/swimbard.jpg>
    A late 1920s suit from Bradley


    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/late50sswim3.jpg>
    Late 50s Catalina suit

    Cole of California

    Deweese Design


    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/jantzen.jpg>
    An early 30s Jantzen suit

    Rose Marie Reid
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/rosereid001.jpg>
    1950s Rose Marie Reid Bathing suit

    And some sportswear designers who were also known for their swimsuits:

    Louella Ballerino
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/wsjantzenbates.jpg>
    Louella Ballerino for Jantzen - 1946

    Tom Brigance
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/sports/brigancepattern.jpg>
    Brigance Sewing pattern, 1950s

    Rudi Gernreich
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/swimsuits/rudi.jpg>
    1959 Gernreich suit

    Tina Leser
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/leser/leser 001.jpg>
    Tina Leser early 1960s swimsuit

    Carolyn Schnurer
    <img src=http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/schnurer/schnurerspringmaid3.jpg>
    Carolyn Schnurer swimsuit, 1950 photo courtesy of Deja Vu Antiques

    Alfred Shaheen

    One last word about the early bathing suit: It is unique in the development of sportswear as it was the only public sport in which wearing "pants" was totally acceptable. In all other social sports, pants or bloomers were never universally accepted, though brave women wore them for Bicycling and skating. It was in "women-only" situations that pants began to be worn on a large scale until the 1910s when hiking knickers and riding jodhpurs caught on with women.
  4. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    So, there you have it: a very brief and sketchy history of the development of the bathing suit. I'd love for you to post pictures of any suits you have, or to ask any questions. I'll try my best to answer them. And there are others here who are swimwear experts so please chime it!
  5. vintageclothesline

    vintageclothesline VFG Member

    Thank you, Lizzie. This is so interesting and timely. I will be back shortly with some bathing suits from 1956.
  6. glamoursurf

    glamoursurf Alumni

    Lizzie, you've done a great job, thank you so much for all this wonderful information.

    I'll start with a question. Can you help me with a date on this early suit? The top and bottoms are seperate and material is cotton I believe. The ribbon belt is not part of the original suit, but I assume it would have been worn belted?


    Also, I've seen bloomers also refered to as knickerbockers, is there a difference?
  7. Excellent, thanks Lizzie!
  8. Gilo49

    Gilo49 VFG Member

    Wonderfully done Lizzie!

    Here's from Youtube the histiory of the string bikini:

    <object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/ST53w33Ap7E&hl=en"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/ST53w33Ap7E&hl=en" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

  9. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Thanks Linda and Pam.

    Pam, your suit is Edwardian, probably between 1910 and 1918. These were usually made from wool, but you do run across cotton and even silk ones.

    By the 1920s sleeves and collars were pretty much out. Yours has no collar, and just a hint of sleeves, so you can see that it is getting on toward the 20s. I have one almost like it in my collection with the white piping!

    The word bloomers is usually associated with a garment that is always worn by women, usually at least partly under another garment. Knickerbockers were a man's garment, but often by the early 20s you see the word in reference to women's outing or hiking pants.
  10. vintageclothesline

    vintageclothesline VFG Member

    These photos are from the June 8, 1956 issue of Collier's magazine. Click on any picture to view larger.

    This is the cover picture. Rudi Gernreich for Westwood ($23).</center>


    Below: Little girl's perky rompered look becomes stylish adapted into tunic suit for her big sister. Made of Lastex faille, suit adds neckline dip as grown-up detail, Catalina, $18.


    Below, first picture: Scoop-neck, button-front suit (in black below and pink version on cover) is by Rudi Gernreich for Westwood ($23). Deep V collar on pink suit at right can be worn off-the-shoulder (Gantner, $20).

    Below, second picture: A body-hugging wool-knit sheath with satin insets - cut princess-style-is Gantner's contribution to new swim dressiness ($18).



    Below: Even classic cotton shorts-suit has added feminine touch of high sash and satin sheen (Cabana, $18).



    Below: Black lace, reminiscent of both the boudoir and the ballroom, comes to the beach. This sultry ruffled sheath is made of elasticized nylon lace over classic satin-finished Lastex foundation (Jantzen, $25).


    Below: Elasticized bengaline suit with crescent pin has tuck-away straps, built-in curves, giving wearer shape like Victorian hourglass silhouette (Rose Marie Reid, $35).


    Party suit by Tina Leser ($30) has a pleated skirt with streamers and crinoline petticoat.


    Camisole neckline on faille suit by Caltex ($23) gives new look to old sport of swimming.


    Design by Dior for Cole of California is loose-fitting tunic in cotton satin worn over pink culottes ($30).


    Any comments, Lizzie? and enjoy!
  11. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    Oh, this is fascinating! I'll be back later with some photos. :)

  12. Laura

    Laura Alumni

    1953 Swim Suit:

    1965 Two Piece Swim Suit:

    1964 "Surfer Group":

    1940s Swim Suit:

    I have some magazine images for later. :)

  13. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing Administrator Staff Member

    Great work, Lizzie.

    here are some I have sold in the past, I apologize for the large sized photos, I'm in the midst of shipping duties and I can't spare the time to resize these at the moment.

    a vintage 1940s shirred back suit - never used, with tags


    a vintage late 1950s Catalina suit


    for out of the water...



    90s Wild Italian Bathing Suit by Calugi

    and although not a bathing suit - an early hommage to the bathing beauty - it is an antique bottle which was produced in the late teens and is known as the bathing beauty bottle

  14. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Those are great Linda. First, the Gernreich is interesting because so many of his swimsuits were black. Also, interesting because he was making them out of the "old fashioned" wool knit.

    The second one, with the bloomer bottom: This style bottom was seen during the 40s war years, but is often associated with Claire McCardell who used it a lot in her suits. Looks cute on that model!

    The yellow and white Cabana suit is the playsuit/swimsuit that has remained popular for those with something to hide! But it looks just as great on the perfect figure, of course.

    The black Jantzen and the Rose Marie Reid show the trend of dressiness. Put a skirt on those suits and you could go to a party!

    I love that Tina Leser, partly because it is not typical Leser fare. She had a difficult figure herself (ie. she was plump) so most of her suits are the playsuit variety, not fitted like this one.

    And what can I say about the Dior? Only that the only bathing suits he ever designed were for this Cole line in the mid 50s. Anyone have one for sale?
  15. glamoursurf

    glamoursurf Alumni

    OMG Linda, do you mind if I save those Gernreich images? I'll need to find that issue. I have that suit!

  16. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    I love bathing suit patterns! That 1953 one shows the "bubble butt" quite clearly. And how about how demure those early 60s suits are!

    Mary Jane, that's a great suit. Which label does it have?
  17. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    :beach: Pam, is your suit pink or darker? Lovely!
  18. glamoursurf

    glamoursurf Alumni

    Thanks Lizzie, It's a deep coral pink color.
  19. Fabulous, Lizzie! This is so interesting.

    I'm wondering when and why a play suit was developed - they often look like swim suits; so why not have a swim suit you could also play in?
  20. pinky-a-gogo

    pinky-a-gogo Alumni

    Lizzie, this is fabulous!!

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