Tag Archives: twenties bathing suits

Not All Flappers Wanted to Be Flat in the 1920s

I love Art Deco style, but I’m always glad that I didn’t have to be young in the 1920s, because I have exactly the wrong figure for 1920s dress styles. And then, one day, I looked at this photo of my mother in a 1920s bathing suit, and realized that she had exactly the wrong figure for the twenties, too.

On the right:  Stranded in the 1920s with a  Gibson Girl figure.

On the right: Stranded in the 1920s with a Gibson Girl figure.

 But that was her era.

She was a teenager when the 1920s began, a popular, fun-loving, slightly wild girl (She eloped while still in high school.) She was the first girl in town to get her hair bobbed; she loved fabric shopping and sewing her own dresses, going dancing, and earning her own living in “The City” as a secretary. So I think it’s fair to say she was a flapper. helen in washington 500 dpi 20s


“The boyish figure sans bust and curves and waistline is the ideal silhouette.” –Evelyn Dodge, Delineator magazine, July, 1925.1925 july  5204 swim july shortened

Underneath 1920s Fashions

Some women in search of the boyish figure bought “Boyshform binders,” or the “Flatter-U” brassiere or bandeaux, or wore flattening brassiere-and-girdle combinations called corselettes. [See Underpinning the Twenties: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners, and Underpinning the Twenties: Girdles and Corsets]

Corselette pattern, Butterick, 1925, and Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, 1925. Delineator.

Corselette pattern, Butterick, 1925, and Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, 1925. Delineator.

Others wore only one thin layer of light cotton or silk ‘combinations,’ or camisoles and bloomers, and rolled their stockings  over elastic garters to hold them up, eliminating the girdle completely.

Combinations or Teddies, and a Chemise set, all from April 1925, Delneator.

Combinations or Teddies, and a Chemise set, all from April 1925, Delneator.

Some women wore even less.

Some Flappers Did Not Try to Reshape Their Figures

Writer Elspeth Huxley spent 1927 as a student at Cornell University. An animal husbandry major, she was matter-of-fact about sex, but she was surprised enough to record this incident:

“A teddy was the silk slip worn by some co-eds; others wore no underclothes at all. One, demonstrating a device she had thought of, peeled off her dress to reveal herself naked but for a strip of adhesive bridging the buttocks. ‘It improves my silhouette,’ she said.” – from Love Among the Daughters: Memories of the Twenties in England and America, by Elspeth Huxley; p. 244.

I would love to know more about the placement of that adhesive strip!

Never Assume

A graceful 1920s figure; this one is surprisingly late, from 1929.

A graceful 1920s figure; this one is surprisingly late, from 1929.

“Never Assume” is a rule of the costume shop. But I realize now that I have been assuming that young women who chose to wear next-to-nothing under their clothes were the ones who had a slim build, close to the twenties’ fashion ideal.

July, 1928 (left); December 1925 (right); Butterick patterns from Delineator.

July, 1928 (left); December 1925 (right); Butterick patterns from Delineator.

I confess I’m a little surprised, looking this photo of people in similar fashions, that some young women apparently chose not to wear a brassiere or bandeau, even if they had very un-boyish, unfashionable curves.

Two office workers, late 1920s. They demonstrate two, different contemporary attitudes toward underwear.

Two office workers, late 1920s. They demonstrate two, very different, contemporary attitudes toward underwear.

The girl on the right has what is usually thought of as an “ideal” nineteen twenties figure; her bust is so flat that I suspect she is wearing a breast binder. The girl on the left is obviously wearing nothing more restrictive than a chemise or combinations as underclothes. Her body is far from the 20s ideal, but she looks confident and completely at ease.

Seeing Through Clothes

Anne Hollander has demonstrated, in Seeing Through Clothes, how strong the influence of fashion is on our idea of beauty – to the extent that artists sometimes paint nudes as if they were wearing an invisible corset. This raises the question: Can we ever see through the eyes of another era?

Which of those girls was considered more attractive by the men of the late 1920s? Were other women scandalized when the big-breasted girl danced the Charleston? Or did many young women dress just as revealingly?

I think I know which one a man would be more likely to bring home to meet his mother – but – I shouldn’t assume!



Filed under 1920s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets & Corselettes, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs

Five 1920s Bathing Suits

I intended to make this a short post about two bathing costumes from 1926, but then I worked backward to some swim suits from 1925….

Two Bathing Suit Patterns from 1926

Butterick patterns # 6809 and # 6822. Delineator, 1926

Butterick patterns # 6809 and # 6822. Delineator, 1926

Although knit bathing suits were already popular, these two patterns for the summer of 1926 use printed textiles, with separate fabric or knit shorts or trunks.

The pattern for #6809 includes a wrap skirt, pictured above right. #6822 calls for a blouse of printed silk crêpe, which would have been very revealing when wet. Perhaps it was intended more for sunning than swimming, since it was available up to bust measurement 48 inches, and came in children’s sizes, too. Pattern #6809 was also illustrated in a very Art Deco print version (see below.) 1926 june p 38 prob june text bath suits 6809 1926

Art Deco Swim Suit , 1926

Butterick pattern #6809, 1926

Butterick pattern #6809, 1926

The striking Art Deco fabric illustrated here is also used to trim the trunks, which seem to be made of satin. Her bathing shoes appear to close with snaps, and are probably made of rubber.  These illustrations are from Butterick’s magazine The Delineator; pattern #6809 was illustrated two months in a row. (Click image to enlarge.)

1926 june p 38 prob june bathing suit 6809 text

Three Swimsuits from 1925

Butterick Patterns #6014, #5210, #5204; from 1925

Butterick Patterns #6014, #5210, #5204; from 1925

The pattern on the left, # 6014, looks very old-fashioned next to the two knit suits on the right. The two 1926 bathing suits discussed above are clearly descended from this style, but in one year have become much shorter, simpler, and sleeveless. The little girl’s one piece wool knit suit, #5210, is as un-fussy as the adult’s bathing-suit  on the right, #5204. With hindsight, we know that this is the style that would dominate for the next few years.

1925 july 6014

6014  “Printed surf silks, printed surf satin, foulard or chintz with plain to match; plain surf satin, plain surf filk or taffeta with contrasting are used for this new two-piece bathing costume with its attractive handkerchief cap. Or use wool jersey, or any of these materials plain, without the tucks at the side, and with a belt…. The bathing costume is becoming to ladies 33 to 48 bust; also misses.”

This description mentions fabrics I had never heard of: ‘surf silk’ and ‘surf satin.’ Wet silk would have been very clingy, but 1920s brassieres (flattening, not uplifting) were sometimes advertised as suitable for wearing under bathing costumes. Taffeta, wool, and sturdy cottons had been used in the dress-like bathing costumes of the early 1900s. This costume was also available in sizes up to 48″ bust, so it was expected to appeal to older, larger, and/or more conservative women.

1925 july 5210 swim

5210  Another bathing-suit that plans to give the ocean hard wear this Summer is for the younger feminine members of the family. This practical suit buttons on the shoulders and has attached tights. The suit is both new and smart and should be made of heavy wool jersey. Parents will appreciate the fact that it puts wool next to the youngster’s skin. A simple suit of this type can be very easily made…. The bathing-suit is practical for girls and little girls 2 to 14 years.

This suit is a miniature version of # 5204, with its buttoned shoulders and attached tights. “Parents will appreciate the fact that it puts wool next to the youngster’s skin;” woolen underwear, like Jaeger’s, was part of the 1880s dress reform movement.  (Having worn wool-lycra bathing suits myself in the 1950s and 60s, I think that sending a small child into the ocean wearing “heavy wool jersey” was insane. If you have ever hand-washed a wool cardigan, you know how absorbent and heavy wet wool can be.)

1925 july 5204 swim july 1925

5204  Ready for an active life on the ocean wave is a simple, straight bathing-suit that has nothing in its make-up that might impede or hamper the swimmer. This very good-looking and practical suit is in one piece and the tights are attached. It can be made very easily, and the materials suitable for this style are heavy wool jersey and heavy jersey tubing. It buttons on the shoulders. The bathing-suit is good style for ladies 33 to 44 bust, also misses.

One-piece knit wool suits, without the (modesty) skirt, had been pioneered by Annette Kellerman, “the Diving Venus,” “the Million-Dollar Mermaid,”  who was arrested for wearing one in 1907,  and were used in competitive swimming in the 1920s. Imagine the water-resistance those Olympic swimmers had to overcome!

Notice that the woman in this illustration is wearing a rubber swimming cap – and rolled stockings!

A 1920s Bathing Beauty

If anyone doubts the influence of fashion illustrations, here is a family photo of a young woman wearing a purchased wool knit bathing suit, accessorized with a parasol and a handkerchief cap. If you look closely just above her knees, you can see that she has recently removed her rolled stockings.helenparasolalone


Filed under 1920s, Bras, Children's Vintage styles, Sportswear, Vintage Accessories, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes