Vintage Swimwear – Be a Retro Bathing Beauty

A short illustrated and film history of Women’s Vintage Swimwear.

Be a retro beauty in vintage swimwear
1940 swimsuit
Be a retro beauty in vintage swimwear
Retro Swimsuit from What Katie Did

Also check out out The Vintage Swimwear Fashion Guide

Vintage Swimwear – A short history on film

In the early 20th century, folks didn’t go swimming – they went bathing – which literally meant paddling up to the knees and no more – heaven forbid.
In the Edwardian days – bathing was a very segregated affair, with men and women bathing apart. The swimsuit had yet to be invented  with ladies wearing dresses essentially, hoisted to the knee. Men and women wore bathing shoes. – and not many people even knew how to swim. One name above all stands out in the development of glamour in women’s swimwear – Jantzen.

Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty
Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty
Flappers on the beach !

In that iconic decade of fashion – the 1920s – swimwear went through just as many changes as the simple frock – and in many ways helped develop the appreciation of line and form in all future fashion design. Their famous Diving Girl logo heralded a new age of freedom, health and fitness.

Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty

According to Glamoursurfs Fierro in an interview with Collectors Weekly – Jantzen’s logo became so popular that stickers were appearing in car windows – such was the impact of the image. Their suits revealed shoulders and thighs and encouraged the new fad of getting a tan. Glamour and swimming went hand in hand. New elastane, elastex  and in the 1930s and 1940s – the introduction of nylon – meant that swimsuits could be figure hugging and flattering to the female silhouette.After the war Lycra helped suits to become even more figure hugging.

Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty
1930s swimsuit

Says Fierro ” Jantzen even had color-harmony guides that told women how to match their lipstick and nail polish to their swimsuit !”
In the early 1920s – stockings were often worn with swimsuits – as typified by the Max Sennett bathing beauties.

Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty
Max Sennett Bathing Beauties

One major influence in – ahem – dropping the stockings from the ensemble was a lady called  Annette Kellerman who says Glamoursurfs Fierro ” was arrested for showing her knees and taking off her stockings, but she took her case to court  and won because she said that she couldn’t swim in stockings. So that opened things up a lot. Women were now able to show their legs.”

As the 1930’s came in, slimline swimwear and new two piece belted sailor inspired suits became increasingly popular – and these nautical styles are back in vogue again. UK designers What Katie Did have some stunning designs that celebrate styles from the 1930s to the 1950’s. Sarongs were also fashionable – who can forget the stunning sarong clad Dorothy Lamour in the 1937 film Hurricane?
The shortage of fabric during the war years and of course the huge influence of Hollywood encouraged designers to create even skimpier designs. Two piece outfits were many and varied, but generally  covered the belly button – as this was for a long time not considered worth revealing. That is until the Bikini exploded onto the world in 1946. By the 1950’s says Fierro – boned corseted style swimwear became popular, to help accentuate your assets and downplay other parts of your body.

Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty
1950s swimwear – Catalina

Swimsuit Designers

Swimwear designers include the aforementioned Jantzen and in Fierro’s opinion ” Claire McCardell is her holy grail of swimsuit designers” In the 1940s she produced the diaper suit, which was a one piece wraparound. As the 1950s came in the play suit – which incorporated removable skirts – was the new rage at the beach.

Swimwear manufacturer Catalina was another big player. They started promoting things like beauty pageants, so their swimwear was seen on models in Miss America pageants.”
Hollywood actress and glamorous swimmer Esther Williams became a swim fashion icon and she encouraged designers to use her own design ideas, which were more aqua dynamic. Vintage Swimwear haute couture really hit the sandy beaches from the 1930s onwards, with designer sunglasses, parasols, beach towels, robes, hats – you name it.

Be a Retro Bathing Beauty

Vintage swimwear - be a retro bathing beauty
What Katie Did

According to Collectors Weekly Lisa Hix –  Retro pin-up style swimsuits covering more flesh but flattering to the figure, are now back in vogue. Lets face it – modesty is sexy and alluring and you can stop sucking in those belly’s ! Pam Fierro of Glamoursurf interviewed by Lisa – definitely agrees that less is more when it comes to beach fashion. ” Who wants to see thongs and strings that leave little to the imagination”
Writes Lisa ” Though all those iconic models like Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Janet Leigh – et all – had gorgeous hourglass figures – any shape looks glamorous in a retro style swimsuit.

Decobelles – Vintage Swimwear Beauties

Just look at the Deco Belles and you can see just how sexy these outfits were. So start searching now for those  high-waist polka dotted granny panties and you’ll be turning heads at the beach before you know it.
Thanks Lisa for your excellent post. Once again pay a visit to that glamorous of glamour designers What Katie Did and treat yourself to some gorgeous retro style swimwear, or visit Modcloth – vintage swimwear stockists.

That’s all !

Good reading References :

Sunkissed by Joshua James Curtis
The Swimsuit by Sarah Kennedy.

copyright- Glamourdaze 2011

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9 thoughts on “Vintage Swimwear – Be a Retro Bathing Beauty”

  1. I love a 50s swimsuit- although the lower cut of the legs is a tricky one to wear if you are not naturally tall and leggy! Interestingly, it doesn't 'hide' so much as 'cut off' if it's severe- something I learned to my cost. A good compromise for a more demure look is a slight 'skirt' instead of a shorts shape. Although I have worn 50s bikinis which are definitely a little 'less is less' – really rather teeny apart from the padding in the bra that is (!!) – I think they were designed for posing not swimming though!

  2. Great job putting this blog post together. So much yummy info. I also really loved those DecoBelles so adorable.

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