Shapes at the Beach:
Swimsuits of the1950
out at the pool in the 1950’s was a popular activity for all ages, but
for women then as now, what was above those bare legs was considered a
major fashion statement. A transitional time for swim wear, the 50’s
saw bathing suits ranging from the modest bloomer or pleated skirts look
to those famous body hugging silhouettes worn by pin-up girls to the
two-piece sporty type . . . with a few daring young women opting for the
bikini, a style that began to emerge at the very end of the decade.
though for most of the 50’s a woman’s bosom and her derriere were
pretty much completely covered, the emphasis was on suits that held you
in and practically created a body for you. There was under-wiring, there
were elasticized strips, there were bones, there were built-in bras,
there were built-in panty girdles—everything needed to make the body
into what it really might not be at all. .
One-piece suits made up the majority of all sales, but some women liked
the two-piece shorts and bra-top look.
Belly buttons were always a no-show, however; shorts came
squarely up to the waist and often featured matching fabric belts.
prominent name in the 1950’s swimsuit business was Fred Cole whose
parents owned the West Coast Knitting Mills.
After developing an elastic-type fabric called Matletex, Cole was
able to offer women becoming suits that helped “create” their
Cole, who had been a star of silent films, recruited a well-known
Hollywood icon, Esther William (the undisputed swimming queen of the
movies) as a spokesperson for his suits.
Cole’s daughter Anne would later come aboard and add her
signature designs to the collection.
was another popular swimsuit manufacturer during the 1950’s.
A two-page spread ad in Seventeen magazine leads off with the
words “blue is for boys” and then proceeds to explain the attention
a young lady would receive from boys should she wear any of the
following suits which all give “shape insurance—does wheat your bra
and girdle do for you”: Jantzen’s exclusive elasticized cotton
gabardine, heavenly paradise blue $16.95 . . . Caprice Latex-powered
faille with nylon lace, paradise blue $22.50 . . . “bewitching
stitching” has new miracle Pellon bra interlining $15.95.”
women wore bathing caps ; a popular model was Kleiner’ts water-tight
swim caps with a “Magic Inner Rim” for keeping hair dry;
Bloomingdale’s advertised these for $1.25 in a June issue of the New
Beach bags, sunglasses, and beach towels completed the ensemble.
Assorted brightly striped “bath sheets” as they were then
called were advertised by Dundee in the June 1957 issue of Ladies’
not surprising that today women buy 1950’s suits not only for their
value as collectibles but also as additions to their wardrobes.
With all that structure and the attractive retro designs,
swimsuits from the fifties are popular today.
A couple of these recently available on two different internet
sites included a light blue Jantzen (remember “blue is for boys” )
advertised with the tag-line :Feel like a 1950’s pin-up
girl” ($22.00) and a knit “snug white suit with pink coral roses”
which the seller says has curved bust stays and “a round back and
fitted derriere” ($22.50).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Peggy Epstein is a retired English teacher and a free-lance
writer. Her book "Great Ideas for Grandkids" was published last year by McGraw-Hill.
Her articles have appeared in the Kansas City Star, College Bound, Footsteps, Grit, Teaching Tolerance, and others.
any Photo to Enlarge
in skirted swimsuit 1957.
Full color Advertisement featuring Bloomer-style suits
popular vocalist Frankie Laine) from June 1954 Good Housekeeping
Swimsuit Ad from Wanamaker’s Department Store
from June 1954 New York Times.