Writing about vintage bathing suits

Though I’ve always been proudly tomboyish and didn’t get a taste for clothes shopping till age 26, I really enjoy describing vintage clothes in my books. Clothes from previous decades are so fun. Since I love the beach, I particularly enjoy writing about vintage bathing suits. It’s also a perfect post topic for summer.

Here are some pictures of bathing suits from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, with accompanying excerpts.



“Why would Katya show her bare ankles in public?” Anastasiya asks in horror. “It’s bad enough she sometimes wears pants and skirts showing her lower legs, even covered by heavy stockings.”

“I’ll be showing my ankles on Long Island and Coney Island, after I get back from my honeymoon.  Isn’t this a wonderful bathing suit Maarja got me?” Katrin giddily holds up a peacock green satin swimsuit, without the sleeves, long skirts, and wool fabric they’re accustomed to.

“Oh my goodness, it goes clear up to nearly your waist!”

“It reaches my thigh, dolt.  It’s not nearly as revealing as Annette Kellerman’s swimsuit, outlining her legs and crotch.  This is modern without being too scandalous.  Besides, I want to swim instead of sitting on the shore looking beautiful.”



Out on the beach, Anastasiya draws stares and loud gales of laughter due to her outdated bathing dress, a heavy black wool outfit with a hemline falling to her ankles and sleeves extending past her elbows.  It’s painfully severe and old-fashioned even by the standards of the typical bathing dress.  No matter what, Anastasiya refuses to show her ankles and elbows in public.  Her few concessions to practicality are her lack of bathing stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and a cap.  Katrin meanwhile enjoys the flirting glances of other men, even though she has a wedding ring and is starting to become visibly pregnant.  Kittey, Viktoriya, Alya, and Anya also have modern, lightweight bathing suits which allow them to move freely and actually swim, while Kat, Eliisabet, and Lyuba have more demure bathing dresses, made of satin, with shoulder-length sleeves and hemlines just covering their knees.

The four men have the normal black tank tops falling to their mid-thighs, over snug-fitting shorts, made of ribbed cotton.  Ivan typically has the most conservative bathing suit, paranoid he’ll be arrested for indecency if the wind or water clings to him too tightly or blows anything out of place.  He’s also made sure his top isn’t loose and that the sleeves are as relatively long as possible, so no one will see any of the thirty whiplash scars still emblazoned all over his back.  The children meanwhile are running and toddling about in homemade bathing suits, unburdened by worries of looking either fashionable or immodest.

1930s bathing suits


The last day of August, Cinni got freshened up to go down to the beach, and then strutted around admiring herself in her red bathing suit.  She’d scored a particular coup in finagling her father to let her buy and wear a two-piece bathing suit.  Even if it didn’t show anything past what a normal bathing suit did, she loved the daring feeling of wearing two separate pieces.

1940s swimsuits


Darya climbs out of the pool first and slips into her blue rubber sandals.  She looks down at her red, white, and blue swimsuit, with a loose swing skirt instead of the tighter skirts her bathing suits have always had.  When she doesn’t have much of a body yet, a tighter skirt would only serve to accentuate everything she doesn’t have.  She already needs to have a swimsuit tie so the extra material doesn’t flop around.  The other three also have swimsuits with loose skirts.  Halina has a white swimsuit decorated with medium pink roses, Maja has a solid blue swimsuit, and Oliivia has a red two-piece swimsuit with white polka-dots.  Just two short months ago, none of them dreamt they’d have enough flesh on their bones or feel strong enough to wear swimsuits and go swimming.



Yuriy walks back and forth through the men’s swimsuit section several times before finally settling on a bright blue piece, with enough fabric to ensure modesty.  He steps into the changing room to try it on, and feels satisfied when it’s nice and loose.  The last thing he wants is to have his masculine reflex paying a call when he’s out of the water.  Inga would be so horrified and offended she might never speak or write to him ever again.

1940s swimsuits ad

Yuriy gives thanks for the roomy fabric when he sees Inga in her bathing suit, a simple navy blue and white plaid style with ruching and a long swing skirt.  He’s never seen her body outlined so much before, and is already imagining what she looks like underneath.  This’ll sure help with all those dreams he has about taking her to bed.

Medieval music

(This is edited down and revised from one of my old Angelfire posts. I’m really proud of how many superfluous words I’m able to expunge from these recovered old posts. I had a really bad habit of going off into the weeds with off-topic rambles and inappropriate editorializing, and was just way too wordy overall.)

I discovered Medieval music in the Musical Appreciation class I took my junior year at university. This was the first music class I actually enjoyed, since it was about history and real musical compositions instead of notes, keys, and other stuff I never understood. Our textbook was written by a fellow who went to my original shul; he also selected the music on the 3-CD companion.

I fell in love with the Kyries and other monastic chants. They have an otherworldly feel, like you’re actually in a Medieval monastery. There were also some early Medieval compositions and a gorgeous Occitan troubadour song by Beatriz de Dia, “A Chantar.” (Occitan was a dialect from Southern France.) The instrument featured most prominently is a vielle, an ancestor of the violin.


Other Medieval instruments I fell in love with:


Copyright Sguastevi

The dulcian, an ancestor of the bassoon, originated in the first half of the 16th century, though it sounds more Medieval than Renaissance to me. It’s like a more melancholy bassoon. My character Eulalia Qiana Laurel (one of Cinnimin’s many grandchildren) plays both a dulcian and vielle, which perfectly fits her sad, dark personality. She also loves spiders, bats, dressing in black, and melancholy poetry. Her mood springs from her parents’ attitude towards her as the seventh girl in a row.


Copyright blackbiird; Source Flickrlaute

The lute remains one of the most popular instruments from this era. It’s very lightweight, though it gets out of tune easily. It sounds like a cross between a guitar and harp.


The dulcimer also remains very popular. It’s played with miniature hammers, and is similar to a zither.


© Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A viol da gamba is another ancestor of the violin. They were very high-class and courtly, and remained quite popular in England even after the violin had come into vogue. A viol bow is convex, not concave like a violin bow. They had to be played while seated, and the most popular models had six strings.


Bagpipes are mentioned in the Bible, and are believed to have originated in Sumeria. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, they tended to only have one drone. Around 1400, a second drone was added, and after 1550, a third drone was introduced and give it its modern sound.


The lizard (a tenor cornett), the even-curvier serpent (a bass cornett), and the zink/cornett itself were created in the Late Middle Ages, and similar to a modern-day recorder. They very closely replicated the sounds of the human voice.


The harp dates back at least as far as the Bible. Troubadours and court musicians had to play by ear or memory. In Medieval folklore, it was said to be imbued “with supernatural powers which could destroy the feynde’s might.” A 12th century Welsh law book stated: “The three items indispensable to a gentleman were his harp, his cloak, and his chessboard, while the three proper things for any man to have in his house were a virtuous wife, his cushion on his chair, and his harp in tune.”


The rebec, which originated in the Arab world, was seen as low-class. It varied in sizes and pitches, though the three-stringed model was most popular.


Copyright http://www.organistrum.com

The hurdy-gurdy was very highly regarded. Before 1300, most were so large they required two players.

Important Medieval musicians in a nutshell:

Josquin Desprez (ca. 1450/55–27 August 1521) created the system of musical notation, and was one of the most important composers of all time. Prior to Desprez, a song or composition was often never played the same way twice.

Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300–April 1377) is the most famous of all Medieval composers. He wrote songs and poetry in his native French, created illuminated manuscripts, and broke boundaries in a quest to make music more personal and dramatic. Many people today consider him avant-garde. His best-known work is Mass of Notre Dame.

Leonius (born ca. 1135) and Perontius (born ca. 1200) made music polyphonous (many voices) instead of monophonous (one voice).

Early Music Resources

Josquin Desprez

Guillaume de Mauchaut

International de Machaut Society

Early Polyphony

WeWriWa—A strange choice of dance teacher


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes about a page and a half after last week’s, after Igor and the Likachëva ladies have had a lively conversation about art, movies, their church community, the upcoming presidential election, and the unfairness of the voting age being twenty-one instead of eighteen.

Igor is very surprised when 11-year-old Flora reveals her ballet teacher is his aunt Lyolya, since Lyolya only teaches one type of student.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.


Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky (né Vatslav Nizhinskiy) as Giselle and Albrecht in the 1910 Ballets Russes performance of Giselle

“You’re invited to my Christmas ballet show,” Flora says as she takes back the geriatric Jitterbug. “I’ve been taking ballet for about five and a half years; your Tyotya Lyolya is my teacher, and I sometimes dance with her daughters Gizella and Odetta.  She named them after characters she danced a lot before she had to retire.”

Igor tilts his head to the right and looks upward. “I thought my Tyotya Lyolya only taught crippled kids, since she was crippled herself and wanted to help kids who were in the position she once was.”

“Gizella and Odetta aren’t crippled, and they take her dance lessons.  Do I look crippled to you?”

Igor wonders if the long illness Violetta mentioned involved Flora being crippled, but he dares not say anything, since he barely knows these people, and doesn’t want to get accused of being rude or dredging up the painful past.  If Flora indeed were crippled at some point in the past, it must not be a subject they want to talk about.  What’s not nice society doesn’t show.

Wilfride Piollet as Odette in Swan Lake, 1977, Copyright La Volé

Lyolya (Yelena) Lebedeva was beaten over her kneecaps with iron crowbars when she and three of her sisters were taken away from home in 1917, and she was left badly crippled. During the next three years in various Siberian camps, her sisters found ways to disguise her condition and get her positions which didn’t involve standing or walking. When her condition was finally discovered, she was pushed off a bridge into the Lena River as punishment, and left behind.

Four young siblings found Lyolya unconscious on a large rock in the river, and dragged her home. In the Smirnov home in Bulun, Lyolya began the long, slow process of recovering both her body and mind, and in 1928, she was discovered by a Russian-born ballet talent scout on his way back to America. She, her foster brother Rostislav, and a number of other dancers were taken to America under false pretenses, and they all defected in San Francisco.

When Lyolya reached retirement age, she decided to become a ballet teacher to children recovering from polio and mobility injuries, since she knew firsthand what it was like to go through that. Her husband Savva, himself a premier danseur noble, teaches boys who’d prefer a male teacher. Savva’s leg was once so badly broken it was almost amputated, so he too knows what it’s like to relearn how to walk and dance after a devastating injury.

Meet some of my animal characters!

I though it would be nice to take a quick break from the more intense, research-heavy posts I usually do for something fun and lighthearted. As a lifelong animal lover, I never miss a chance to include some animals in my ensemble casts. A few of these animal characters are prominent enough to merit their names being bolded in my cast lists (because I’m that old-fashioned writer who still makes a list of characters for the frontal matter).

In no particular order, some of my animal characters and a little about them:

Kroshka (1908–27 April 1933), the little Pomeranian that could of my first three Russian novels. Kroshka’s person is Svetlana Lebedeva, who gave her the name Kroshka because it’s Russian for “crumb,” and really suited her tiny little size. All Kroshka’s people were eventually taken away, and Svetlana’s father was shocked to escape from prison and come home to find her still there. No one ever figures out just how she survived on her own, and if she had any help from people or other dogs.

It was really emotionally difficult to write her final chapter, “A Modern-Day Argos,” when she reunites with Svetlana’s cousin Nadezhda. Kroshka kept herself alive for 25 years because she knew some of her people were still out there, and once the last had come to America, she knew her time was up. She’s buried in the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, and Svetlana wears the key to Kroshka’s coffin on a chain around her neck forevermore.

Copyright José Reynaldo da Fonseca

Snezhinka (Russian for “snowflake”) is a snow-white Pomeranian whom Svetlana finds on 10 June 1933. While she and Nadezhda are taking a walk the morning before Nadezhda’s long-awaited wedding, a runty puppy Pomeranian begins following them. Svetlana, a nurse, instinctively understands she’s malnourished and must’ve been living on the streets for awhile. She wonders if Snezhinka might be the reincarnation of Kroshka, sent into her life to heal her heart.


Andryusha is a Samoyed owned by little Kittey Vishinskaya and bought for her by dear friend Pyotr Litvinov in early 1921. Kittey had polio in January 1919, and went through a long, slow process of relearning to walk. Using a guide dog was her final stage before being able to walk unassisted again. Like Kroshka, Andryusha also comes to America. He’s named after Kittey’s murdered father Andrey.


Branimir is a Kabardin horse, the last character I ever created on my first computer, the 152K Mac, in September or October 1993. For the longest time, he was unnamed. A few years ago, I finally gave him the same name I gave a little grizzly bear statuette my surviving uncle got me when I was recovering from my accident in 2003. Branimir is a Serbian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, and Croatian name meaning “peaceful protection” or “world protection.”

Lyuba and Ivan can’t bear to part from Branimir after they’ve gone through so much together, so they bring him to America and board him at a Long Island stable till they move to Minnesota in 1929. They also bring him with them when they move to Hastings (near the Twin Cities) for four years of university. I’m not looking forward to writing Branimir’s eventual death and funeral scenes!

Mängukaru (Estonian for “teddybear”) is a Great Dane adopted by Katrin Kalvik-Nikonova’s family in 1937, when he’s about three years old.

Chernika (Russian for “blueberry”) is a Pygmy goat who keeps Branimir company during those four years in Hastings. He’s named by Lyuba and Ivan’s youngest child, Tamara. Pygmy goats are excellent companions for solitary horses.

Copyright Jen Smith, Source Papillon Ears

Rakushka (Russian for “seashell”) is an orange and white Papillon whom Ivan gets Lyuba as a tenth anniversary present in September 1933, when she’s pregnant with their seventh child Irina. She’s still going strong now at 15 years old. Toy breeds tend to live longer than large, giant, and medium breeds. One of the three canine Titanic survivors was a Pomeranian who reportedly lived to 25.

Nessa (Hebrew for “miracle”) is an ivory satin mouse discovered by 14-year-old Eszter Kovács in the large abandoned house she and her friends Marie and Caterina escape into in late March 1945. They don’t immediately discover Nessa, and marvel at how she was able to survive for four days with barely any food and water. When all the characters are in Béziers, France, on a strawberry farm, Nessa is accidentally bred, and thus begins the mousery by which Eszter and her husband earn a living in Newark. Nessa lives about three and a half years, very old for a mouse, and dies soon after arriving in America.

Schatzi (German for “sweetie”) is a Flemish Giant rabbit whom the girls also find in the abandoned house. She’s also accidentally bred on the strawberry farm, and forms the basis of a rabbitry. Both Nessa and Schatzi are healing balm for these young survivors’ souls. Schatzi dies in June 1959.

When her people escape to Morristown after the Newark Riots in July 1967, both Nessa and Schatzi are disinterred and reburied in their new backyard.

Bernhard (called Ben and Bentje) is a Kooikerhondje puppy found by Jakob DeJonghe in the fall of 1943. His original name was Adolf, and he was owned by one of the cretins who hurt Jakob’s mother last year. Ben is named after Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, and serves as a war dog in both The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. He comes to America with Jakob in 1946.

Copyright Pleple2000

George is a cat owned by Emeline Troy of my contemporary historical family saga. To no one’s shock, he’s named after George Harrison. Emeline frequently calls him Georgiekins. He’s a runt with beautiful smoky-blue eyes, off-white medium-length fur, and a few grey, black, and orange patches. Emeline adopts him in 1972.

Jitterbug is a black, white, and orange guinea pig owned by Granyechka Likachëva’s children. She’s a lot older than most guinea pigs now, at age eleven, and I’m not looking forward to her death either. Jitterbug is the first subject oldest surviving child Violetta draws after polio forces her to switch from her right to left hand. She figures it’s not difficult to draw a round oval with little feet, ears, and a face.

Why I love mechanical and early electronic televisions

(This is edited down and revised from a post I wrote for my old Angelfire website, probably around 2003. The non-public domain images are used to illustrate the subjects and are consistent with fair use doctrine.)


1928 General Electric television

To the untrained eye, antique TVs look like cabinets or radios with little glass screens. Thus, it’s suspected many more mechanical TVs exist than are accounted for in personal collections and museums. To date, there are at least 100.

About 7,000 early electronic televisions (1938–41) were made in the U.S.; 19,000 were made in Britain; and 1,600 were made in Germany. A handful were made in Italy, Russia, France, and The Netherlands. Altogether, there are about 200 verified, surviving American and British sets.

If you know what to look for, you might stumble across one of these beauties in an attic, a flea market, or an antiques shop.


There were dozens of TV stations (all classified as experimental) from 1929–33, and again after broadcasting officially resumed on 30 April 1939. (However, the DuMont 180, the first electronic television, went on sale the year before). Most stations were in New York, Chicago, or New Jersey, with a few from states including Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Missouri.

Some stations were created by avid hobbyists and not credited as official experimental stations, but the frequency travelled for hundreds of miles. Thus, someone in the middle of nowhere could pick up signals from the nearest properly-equipped city.

Decades before TV Guide appeared, there were programming guides issued. Programming tended towards sports, music, variety, plays, and public speeches. Future President Herbert Clarke Hoover and Queen Mary of England also appeared on television in the late Twenties.


Sample 1930 image

There were troubleshooting manuals, instructional guides, and how-to books for building one’s own television. In my second Russian historical, The Twelfth Time, Katrin’s husband Sandro assembles a television set during the annual summer-long vacation to a rented five-story cottage on Long Island in 1928. WRNY is the closest broadcasting station. The assembled viewers see a dancing puppet, followed by moving faces.

When the Konevs are quarantined on account of their children’s whooping cough some months later, Sandro sends over the materials for Ivan to assemble a television set for his own family. My Atlantic City characters, many of whom are rich, also have television sets during this era.


The 1932 Jenkins Universal Receiver (which needed a TV set to go along with it) cost $79.50, and came with a set of eight matched DeForest tubes. It only provided “the sound and electrical signal to drive a separate R-400 display unit,” which “housed a motor-driven pinhole scanning disc and neon lamp.”


A second universal television receiver from Jenkins was billed at $69.50 for the tubes and $13.45 for the tube equipment. Another 1932 television, from Hollis Baird, cost $39.50 for the entire get-up.


Early electronic televisions tended to be much more expensive, such as the $595 top-of-the-line model from Andrea. This beauty featured a phonograph and radio. Andrea’s cheapest sets started at $80.


DuMont models were $395 and $435. RCA went from $199.50–$600. Chicago’s Western Television Co.’s gorgeous 1929 model, with a 17-inch scanning disc (pictured below), cost $88.25 for the basic kit, another $20 for the actual cabinet, $85 for the companion receiver, and $20 for the consolette table. Also known as an echophone, between 250–300 were made, “probably more than any other mechanical set in the U.S.” At least 20 have been accounted for.


Mechanical television ultimately failed because of the poor picture quality. Often the reception suffered from fading and ghosting, and only hobbyists and the rich had time for it. With early electronic TV, it was both the high price and the abrupt halt to the television industry caused by the war. However, injured GIs had TV in their hospitals.


Some other beautiful models I’d love to have:


1939 DuMont 180. At least six are verified.


RCA 60-line, early Thirties. At least five are accounted for.


1941, DuMont 183. At least five have been verified.


1932 Jenkins receiver kit. At least two have survived.


Model 26 Televisor, Baird receiver (1929–32, England). At least three have been accounted for.

Early Television Foundation and Museum
Television History
The Dawn of TV

Do you like antique TVs? Do you own any? Have you seen any in person? If you had one, would you attempt to restore it, or just use it for decoration?