As was expected, also with swimmingwear I'm mostly a fan of the creations of the first part of the century, and I've been trying to get myself at least one swimming suit of each of my favourite eras. Of course it's a rather difficult mission for many reasons (the main one of them being how old they are), but last summer in Rauma I was lucky enough to find the first one of them! Which happened to be a 1930's woolen swimming suit in the absolutely perfect shade of yellow.
Swimming gear saw a boom in the late victorian and edwardian eras, since many doctors started to recommend sea water as healthy, and European monarquies made many coastal destinations extremely popular (such as for example Biarritz, in my native Basque Country). The main problem in this era though was that women wore corsets 24/7, plus were covered from neck to toes, so the edwardian swimming gear can much more appropiately be described as "swimming dresses" rather than "swimming suits". They looked like nothing that may come to our minds if we think about a swimming suit!
These swimming dresses usually consisted of loose bloomers and a dress on top of them, and it wasn't rare at all that the ladies would be wearing the corset underneath plus stockings etc. I'm not quite sure swimming was even practically possible in these outfits, but they were mostly used for having walks on the beach with the water up to the knees. A few extremely daring ladies tried to promote a skin-tight swimming suit (closer to what men used), which had half-sleeves and was long to almost the knees, but they were considered extremely indecent and some even got arrested.
These kind are extremely difficult to find, few have survived due to their age and that also makes it so that the prices go really high at bids. I did actually find one last summer at Fintage's event Suvi Vintage, but unluckily enough it was way too small for me (believe me, I tried really hard to fit in! :-D) and it found a new loving home with my dear friend Marianne.
|edwardian era swimwear
The 1920's brought a real revolution to women's clothing, with the straightening of the figure, the ditching of the corset and the shortening of the hems, and the change could definitely also be noticed in the swimming clothing. Women started to wear something very similar to what men wore in edwardian times, which was a combination of a pair of tight "trousers" and a dress on top reassembling a long tank-top. Unlike in the edwardian era, this garments were now skin tight, which meant women could finally enjoy a beach outfit that was reasonably practical.
These dresses were usually made of knitted wool (which is the main reason why wearable ones are difficult to find, most have been more or less nibbled in by moths), and even though extremely more revealing than their counterpads from the edwardian period the length (or their shortness) was regulated by law! Which meant they couldn't be any shorter than a certain distance from the knees, and as you can see below it was a law that was indeed enforced!
In the 1930's women's swimming suits finally started to look like what we nowadays consider a swimming suit. Most of the leg was finally showing, and they had an open back. They were mostly still made out of knitted wool, which means many of the surviving pieces have moth damage, and they were often worn with my other great swimwear-related obsession: the beach pajamas. Beach pajamas were overalls made of lightweight fabric and with very wide legs, and usually displayed the craziest and most fun art deco designs you can imagine. I have seen them listed in ebay now and then, but unluckily enough they usually go for pretty high prices, so I might have to end up making a repro pair for myself someday!
As I said, I've been searching for all these three kinds of swimming outfits like crazy for a while now, so I was absolutely ecstatic when I came accross this authentic 1930's swimming suit! And if that weren't enough, it was absolutely in mint condition and knitted out of wool in my absolutely favourite shade of yellow (my favourite colour is in fact grey, but yellow has been my new obsession for a couple of years now).
One good thing about the knitted material is that it stretches, so to my delight I found out the swimming suit was a perfect fit. I was a bit afraid of moth bites, but against all odds it didn't seem to have any bites either! It even made me overcome my scepticism about actually going swimming in a woolen swimming suit, since not only did it not get saggy when wet, but the material seemed to get much less soaked than other materials used nowadays.
|my 1930's woolen swimming suit
And finally a picture of me wearing this beauty a couple of weeks ago, at this year's Helsinki Burlesque Festival! As you may know, the theme this year was Tropical Hurricane, so Sandy and Gigi decided we should go in swimming wear on Friday! Which was a great idea, because it was the perfect excuse to wear this beauty in winter ;-)