McCall’s coverage of summer fashions for 1938 included articles on choosing a flattering bathing suit — perhaps made of rubber — and the importance of wearing sunglasses.
Full-page photo from McCall’s magazine, July 1938. Peach colored bathing suit and matching swim cap.
McCall’s was a large format magazine, so I had to scan the top of the page, then the bottom and join them. This image was the “cover” of the style and beauty section, and didn’t have a description. Her waffle-weave swimsuit has a matching peach and white cap — or is it a scarf? There seems to be a tie peeking out from behind her head. Her coral lipstick and nail polish match.
Swimsuits and Sunglasses, 1938
“If the Sun’s in Your Eyes” article, McCall’s, July 1983. Sunglasses and print bathing suits.
Striped and flowered bathing suits, July 1938.
The striped suit has a bra-like shaped top. The ethnic basket/beach bag is impressive. Like other late 30’s swimsuits, the legs are as long as modern shorts. This article stressed that sunglasses keep you from squinting, and, therefore, prevent wrinkles around the eyes. However, not all sunglasses were equal:
“Ordinary colored blown glass has wavy imperfections in it which distort the vision. . . . Science has perfected sunglasses that do not distort vision or darken the landscape. Even at a moderate price good sunglasses are now constructed so that they scientifically screen out most of the infra red and ultra violet rays. . . . Good sungogggles, not optically ground, of course, cost about fifty or seventy-five cents a pair, sometimes more. But the extra cost over the cheapest type is small compared to the comfort you get. Such glasses are usually a blue or green tint, they’re well made, and come in handy carrying cases.” — Hildegarde Fillmore, writing in McCall’s magazine, July 1938.
How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit?
That was the question posed by this two-page article:
“How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit?” article, McCall’s, July 1938
“If your hips and thighs aren’t exactly streamlined, a dressmaker suit with a skirt will do more for you than a skin-tight maillot.” [But these long swimsuits do make the models’ legs look short and chunky.]
1938 halter-necked dressmaker bathing suit in “jungle print” with zipper front. McCall’s, July 1938.
“Is a bra-topped suit your love? Then be sure your bustline is pretty perfect and that no ‘spare tire’ mars your midriff.”
1938 bathing suit of elastic lace, “designed by a corset manufacturer.”
1938 bathing suit: “The brassiere gives a good uplift, and front and back panels do a flattening job.” McCall’s, July 1938.
To my surprise, two of the featured bathing suits were made of rubber. “Do you covet a skirtless rubber model? You’d better see to it that your tummy is practically concave.”
1938 white rubber bathing suit. McCall’s, July 1938.
White textured rubber bathing suit “starred in red and blue”, McCall’s magazine, July 1938.
“This crepe textured rubber maillot ‘swims’ like a second skin and dries in an instant. Its comfortable wool shoulder straps are adjustable at the back.”
(Below) “Tailored as a man’s waistcoat, this very brief bra-and-shorts suit is of ivory-white rubber in a neat jacquard self pattern. The points of the bra snap securely to the shorts, and a row of buttons form the trimming.”
1938 ivory rubber bathing suit. McCall’s magazine, July 1938.
I’m not sure how popular rubber bathing suits turned out to be, because, frankly, I didn’t want to do a search for them! Many years ago, while helping to organize a workshop on making dancewear, an online search for stretch fabrics taught me more than I really wanted to know about people who love spandex. Passionately. (Ahem.) I like to think that “nothing human is alien to me,” but I just don’t feel that curious about rubber clothing.
However, given how hard it is to find vintage rubber swim caps in good condition, I doubt that many rubber bathing suits survived.
1917 bathing cap made by Faultless Rubber Co. Ad from Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917. A pretty cap like this would be quite a vintage collector’s item.
Rubber for Reducing
Another reason the rubber swimsuits surprised me is that rubber corsets had been advertised as reducing aids since at least the 1920s. They were still being advertised in womens’ magazines about the same time as the rubber swimsuits, and it’s hard to imagine that no one made the connection. (The swimsuits were not perforated, of course. You would just have to swim in your own sweat.)
Kleinert’s New “All-in-One” of Sturdi-flex rubber fabric is a perfect marvel!” Ad, 1937.
“Kleinert’s Sturdi-flex Reducers are sized to bust measure. . . . It’s ODORLESS, perforated for coolness, and can be washed in a moment.” And only two dollars!
The Perfolastic rubber reducing garments must have been more expensive, because their price was never given.
Perfolastic rubber reducing garment advertisement from Woman’s Home Companion, March, 1937.
And Another Thing About 1930s Bathing Suits . . .
I wasn’t expecting to see so many swimsuits with tight “boy-shorts” legs. Late Thirties’ bathing suits are long, by modern standards. [No French cut legs on the beaches then!] But even in the 1950’s, many women’s bathing suits still had a sort of “modesty panel” in front that concealed the crotch.
Esther Williams in an ad for Cole bathing suits, from her book, Million Dollar Mermaid.
Here are some suits from the 1958 Sears catalog, two decades after the 1938 bathing suits pictured in McCall’s.
Sears’ catalog bathing suits for Spring 1958. They are still rather long, and all three have a modesty panel hiding the crotch area.
Swimsuits from 1938 might be long, but some of them had legs:
Bathing suits from Sears’ catalog for Spring 1938.
Bathing suits shown in ads in McCall’s are very similar to the conservative styles at the top of this post.
Bathing suit in an ad for Underwood’s Deviled Ham. McCall’s, July 1938
Swimsuits from an ad for Palmolive soap, McCall’s, July 1938.
Skirted bathing suits with low backs and bra tops, from a Palmolive ad, McCall’s, July 1938. Note the attractively striped shoes, too.