Thursday 27 September 2012

1930s Bathing Suits

I am researching a short article on 1930s knitted woolly swimsuits for Slipknot, the magazine of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, based on the publications in the Guild's collections at Lee Mills.  Although some of the 1930s magazines have useful material (patterns or ads), we don't actually have many pattern leaflets for knitted swimsuits.  So I bought a copy of one from the Vintage Knitting Lady.

The leaflet includes patterns for two bathing suits in Patons & Baldwins "Crocus" non-shrink knitting wool.  All the patterns I have seen for hand-knitted wool swimsuits of that era stress that the yarn is non-shrink.  The implication is that other yarn would shrink in sea-water, but I don't know if these yarns represented a technical innovation, and if so what it was.

This leaflet was advertised in a magazine in May 1933, and as you can imagine, the ad is lyrical about the joys of swimsuits knitted in this yarn: 
'"Crocus" bathing suits flourish gaily at fashionable seaside resorts. Smart designs - unfading colours - easy to knit - inexpensive.'
'"Crocus" Wool is unequalled for Bathing Suits.  It does not shrink, and neither sun nor salt water can fade it, also, being pure wool, it is deliciously cosy.  Marl colourings are very much in favour for this season's beach wear, and the models illustrated combine marl and plain shades in an attractive fashion.'

However, the fly in the ointment, the skeleton in the cupboard, is revealed in the instructions in the pattern leaflet. At the very beginning, in bold, is the message: 
"As Woollen Fabric expands a little when wet, a Swimming Suit must fit the figure firmly before it is worn in the water, otherwise it will be liable to sag. The sizes given in the recipe are, therefore, not those of the finished garments, but such as will stretch in wear to the required dimensions."  
I think this means: unless your bathing suit starts off too small for you, it will sag horribly, and will not cover you decently by the time you leave the water.

The intended sizes are in any case very small:  Claire (the cover design) is to fit a 30 to 32 inch bust (76 to 81 cm.), and Auriol is even smaller (29-31 inch bust, i.e. 74-79 cm.).  From the instructions, the finished size of the Claire bathing suit is 20 in. at the waist, and 22.5 in. around the ribs, where the  main part of the back finishes.  Tiny!  And not, I think, very flattering.

(Thanks to The Vintage Knitting Lady for permission to reproduce the photos from the pattern leaflet.)

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