As with the corsetry industry, vintage swimwear was revolutionized by the 1930s development of elastic textiles and threads. The innovative technology would replace the heavy woolen “bathing suits” of the 1920s with “swimming suits” and swimming became more than just a pastime. Fifties swimwear was greatly influenced by the Dior New Look with the hourglass figure playing a prominent part in the more structured and molded to fit the figure swimsuit.
Pioneers in the swimwear industry, Carl Jantzen and Roy and John Zehntbauer would form the Jantzen Knitting Mills and become one of the first major manufacturers to utilize The American Rubber Company’s 1930’s developed rubberized yarn named Lastex. This nylon or cotton wrapped elastic thread allowed swimsuits to stretch and smoothly fit the body. Jantzen’s early recognition of the importance of “branding” led to their Diving Girl icon becoming a trademark and their international symbol. See Jantzen Timeline Here.
The “Glimmer For Glamour” swimsuit was featured in a 1954 illustrated Jantzen advertisement that promised to mold and hold a lovely bustline forever with “shape insurance.” The miracle bust interlining and waistline deduction fabric assured glamorous curves all summer.
Vintage Swimwear Pioneers
Born in 1906 as Rose Marie Yancy, Reid began creating swimwear in the 1930s with a duck cloth swimsuit for her “tired of woolen swim trunks” husband, Jack Reid. By the mid fifties her company had accumulated sales in the millions as women clamored for the designs that celebrated the female form. Her gold metallic swimsuit was a crowd favorite after Rita Hayworth was photographed in the gorgeous but pricey $90 suit.
A huge proponent of a structured swimsuit, Reid and her Jewels of the Sea swimsuits collection would add glamour and style to pools and beaches. The shelf bra and bubble hip styled suit named the “Hourglass” was advertised in 1956 as the silhouette that does so much for every figure. Under its shaping influence, your waist is whittled and your hips go into hiding.
Major swimwear manufacturer, Cole of California’s, head swimsuit designer during the fifties was Margit Felligi. She too would utilize the popular synthetic fabrics for Cole’s exclusive rich-textured Lastex matelasse suit with the “snap” that gives support. Cole of California’s 1953 advertisement showcased an Esther Williams swimsuit with the revolutionary Lastex fabric that fits glove-smooth even after a swim. They would also offer an “Everfast” color guarantee. See this and other spectacular vintage fashions in Traven7’s Etsy Shop.
Emerging as Catalina Sportswear in 1955, the former Catalina Knitting Mills would become a major swimsuit company based in California. With a strong voice in Hollywood, Catalina was responsible for introducing stylish swimsuit apparel worldwide as glamour photography became a hot market. Continuing with the fifties popular synthetic fabrics and swimsuit designs with molded bra cups and boning, Catalina sportswear was often seen in movie star publicity shots. A Catalina “Masterpiece” designed swimsuit like this was featured in Natalie Wood’s 1958 coming of age film “Marjorie Morningstar” and sold at auction in 2011 for $6000. See auction results here.
During her twelve year tenure as head designer for Catalina Sportswear during their Hollywood heydays, Mary Ann DeWeese was responsible for their “Sweethearts” matching mens and womens swimsuits. She continued to enjoy success after forming DeWeese Designs in the 1950s. Her vintage swimwear continues to appeal to today’s collectors for their hourglass silhouette, textured fabrics, and appliqued adornments.
Many of us “born in the fifties” bathing beauties would benefit from the miracle fabrics and designs in the vintage swimwear featured here.