Swimwear / Sunwear

Retro Swimsuits for my Modern Figure?

January 13, 2010

I probably will never have an occasion to wear a glamorous swimsuit. For me, the only time I need to wear a swimsuit is if I’m kayaking, and even then I don’t always wear a suit. Since I’ve gained my peri-menopausal spare tire with accompanying saddle bags, I don’t even wear a suit without wearing shorts over it.

So when I look at swimwear, first of all, I don’t look at anything like the sweet tropical print string bikini from Victoria’s Secret that’s sitting in the bottom drawer of my dresser. *sniff* Yes, I used to wear it. And it’s a size 8. *sniff sniff*.

Having accepted that if I *should* ever have occasion to wear a suit that people might actually *see* me in, I choose to look at suits with more coverage. Like, a burkha… ok, just kidding. Here are some sweet vintage-inspired suits that I might consider wearing, once I lose about 25 pounds (to start).

And having said that, I cannot bring myself to pay what they’re asking for these suits, so I’m considering sewing one for myself, but I definitely need some guidance from my more experienced seamstress friends out there. (see more about this at the end of the post…)

modcloth’s The Betty Swimsuit

Anthropologie’s En Pointe Bikini

Anthropologie’s Nathalie One-Piece

Now here’s a question for all you vintage sewing fanatics: If I wanted to make my own vintage suit, what fabrics would be period-appropriate and would drape well with the cuts? Ideas? Any resources you can point me to? Besides the wool suits I’ve seen from the 20’s and 30’s, I have no idea what kind of fabric was used. What did they make suits out of in the 40’s and 50’s, before there was lycra? Thanks for any tips you might have!
  1. I collect bathing suit patterns (mostly from thrift stores, but pre-1960 ones are easier to find online), and even some of the 1970's ones call for cotton wovens or double knits. Challis, chambray, gingham, broadcloth, pique, gabardine, and poplin are examples of fabrics called for on the pattern envelopes, and the pieces are largely cut on the bias to allow give. Nylon, cotton, and wool would be the most authentic for 40's and 50's.

  2. The ones I've seen are cotton with the old rubber elastic in them, I'm not sure what it is called. You might have to do some research into the type of elastic to use if you are actually going to expose them to chlorine. If you are just swanning around beside the pooI don't suppose it makes any difference. I'd be swanning too if I looked as good as these girls in a pair of togs.

  3. I think I would use lycra to attempt to suck in my flabby body! I love the styles. My 16 yo daughter got a black bathing suit like the last one from Land's End last year and she looks adorable in it.

  4. Thanks, everyone! Now I need to lose some more weight! 😉 In the meanwhile, I guess I'll search out the perfect vintage pattern and start shopping for fabric….

  5. Lycra wasn't invented until 1959 but other stretchy fabrics (knits) were used. The style really decided the type of fabric. A more form fitting 30's suit, like those seen in Atonement or the ones Jantzen originally created, were probably knit wool. The more constructed ones, like those of the 40s and 50s (the ones you are channeling in the pictures above) were usually made of woven cotton with either knit or woven lining. They almost always have boning. Around the legholes there would have been elastic. If a zipper wasn't used, smocking in the back provided stretch enough to get in and out.
    I'm not big on how I look in a bathing suit either, but I would suggest trying one in a woven cotton rather than lycra. Lycra, even though originally firm, will soon stretch out in the same places you do. Since woven cotton isn't stretchy, it will act a lot like a corset in that you will be firmly held in!
    Good luck!

  6. Thanks for featuring my Retro Sadie Retro Swimsuit. I was curious if you ever did sit down and make a suit. A lot of my first designs I developed from vintage swimsuit patterns.

    If you did make a suit – please post pictures – I would love to see how they turned out!


    Popina Swimwear

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