Monday, 25 May 2015

Getting In The Swim

ftm logoNow here’s an exhibition I quite fancy visiting, at the London Fashion and Textile Museum [they even have a discount for the over 60s!]


Riviera Style looks at ‘resort and swimwear since 1900’ – and an awful lot of the exhibits have come down from the Leicester Museums. Leicester was for so long the centre of the British garment industry, and Symingtons [of Market Harborough] were renowned for their corsets and custards. Quite bizarre that this family company had two branches – pudding mixes, and ladies ‘intimate’ garments, nevertheless they were leaders in production of swimsuits for women. Look at these…

1890sAt the turn of the century, women bathers were well covered, in their ‘bathing dresses’ – but things got a little more relaxed after WW1. By the 1930’s men and women wore these

mens suit 1930sall in one suits. The belt helped stop the knitted fabric from sagging too much! Turbans or swimcaps were worn.east coast lner

1930’s Railway posters encouraged people to travel to the East Coast and enjoy the ‘drier side of Britain’ [that’s Norfolk, of course!]

Then just before the war, Symingtons took out a patent on ‘telescopic’ fabric, where elastic was stitched into horizontal and vertical grid telescopic 1930s

This ruching meant that the costume would stretch to fit every body. When nylon came along the fabric dried quicker too. I had one of these costumes when I was 5 in the early 60s. I hated it! all those little stretchy pockets filled up with scratchy sand. Plus mine was a hand-me-down from a cousin, and for unknown reasons, some of the rows of elastic had given up the ghost years before, and sagged alarmingly. I suppose it was better than my friend’s knitted suit.

symington 1969By the 70s synthetic fabrics and psychedelic patterns were everywhere. And I had a plain black school costume! Then when I was 18 I decided to rebel, and bought a pattern like this [I’ve lost the original, sadly]

I went to Gordon Thoday’s Fabrics in Norwich and bought the fabric.

simplicity pattern

I began with the halter neck top [View C] and the briefs [View B] which I made in a green and yellow floral crimplene, lined with nylon[with foam cups in the top] I actually [bravely] wore this for swimming. I wince to remember it now. Then I was given some blue floral cotton fabric by a friend, and daringly made view A.

I decided this style was more of a sunbathing outfit – not quite brave enough to risk in the pool! Then somebody on holiday with me pointed out that the blue fabric was actually the summer dress fabric of her Girls’ Grammar School in Essex. I was too embarrassed to wear it after that! I was a very slim size 8/10 back then.

team gb

On the left is the swimsuit designed by Stella McCartney for team GB 2012 made from recycled nylon and lycra. The Speedosuit on the right is teflon-coated lycra, designed to streamline the body reducing water-resistance. This fabric was eventually banned from competition costumes!

Nowadays I am back into a sensible one piece, bright blue, but very similar in shape to the school costume I despised so much when I was 15. But reliable for swimming in.

Do you swim? What’s your cossie like?


  1. Oh the memories, Gordon Thoday - spent hours in there. Those ruched swimsuits, had one in the 50's. I was a very fat child and pulled the ruching to its fullest extent resulting in my torso being covered in squares!

  2. Interesting post. How fashion has changed, L likes swim shorts and a top that comes down to her waist because otherwise, she feel like she's walking around in her underwear

  3. I do swim, and my costume is severe black and one piece! I do remember as a child, having one of those ruched bathing suits. It was white, and as soon as it got wet it became transparent.....

  4. I remember having a blue ruched swimsuit when I was a child! We snipped the elastic as I grew, so the suit lasted me for several years!

  5. Ooh, those dreadful ruched swimsuits When I was about eight I got a Judy Grinham swimsuit and it was wonderful. I was sure I would be able to swim faster in it! (Judy Grinham was an Olympic Gold Medallist.) That was the first and last time I had a celeb sponsored garment.

  6. Vix also posted about this exhibition and I agree it sounds fascinating. I have a 1 piece black polka dot suit with low legs and halter which I like as I hate high cut swimmers, if I wear a bikini it is always shorts nowadays and I prefer a long top to cover a mole on my tummy.x

  7. Brought back memories of Gordon Thoday in Cambridge too! Many happy memories of mooching around in there looking for fabrics with my mum. Don't swim much these days but when I do, it's a very sensible one piece that I pull out of the bottom of the drawer!

  8. I crocheted a bikini back in 1970, wore it once into the sea and had to be rescued with a towel as everything expanded and drooped with the weight of the water!


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