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.

Silver_Sheet_January_01_1923_-_GALLOPING_FISH.pdf

1923:

“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.”

Bathing_Beach_1920

1923:

Out on the beach, Anastasiya draws stares and loud gales of laughter due to her outdated bathing dress, a heavy black wool outfit with a hemline falling to her ankles and sleeves extending past her elbows.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

1938:

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

1945:

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.

I'm_conserving_wool,_this_bathing_suit's_painted_on.,_ca._1943_-_ca._1943_-_NARA_-_535701.tif

1946:

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.

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11 thoughts on “Writing about vintage bathing suits

  1. Lovely look at a thoroughly charming area of vintage fashion. As a general, strongly prefer yesteryear swimwear (or modern repro versions that channel such quite authentically) to today’s offerings. From the (degree of) coverage to the styling to the whimsical touches, it was often so fun and becoming.

    Have a terrific tail end of July,
    ♥ Jessica

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    • I’d love to have a vintage swimsuit myself, or a close-enough modern reproduction. I’m particularly interested in the old-fashioned two-piece suits that show just a bit of midriff instead of being super-revealing.

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  2. I wish they had some of those vintage bathing suits now. They are so cute and flattering. I’d feel so much better and confident in those bathing suits than the ones they have now.

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    • It’s nice to have a swimsuit which covers more of the body than most modern-say suits. I now have a swimsuit with a skirt that just about meets the fingertip rule. My big thing is not wanting the crotch outlined, and sturdy straps.

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