The Red Hen is still shopping vintage sewing patterns on eBay (see her previous sewing post).
Turns out it is a very rare booklet on bathing attire, not only because it was published about 1890, but because being an advertising booklet sent to stores in an effort to elicit orders, most were not saved. World Cat (the World Catalog of Libraries) only lists two, one at the Chicago History Museum and the other at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. (By the way, World Cat is really a great resource for those of you who collect books and ephemera. Website here: WorldCat.)
This booklet really crosses the boundaries of “Books” into “Ephemera”. Ephemera is, well, ephemeral! And, ephemera is often just referred to as “paper” in the antique world. Things made of paper that really have no reason to still be around because they were meant to be thrown out after being used or when they or what they advertised expired, are “paper” or ephemera. I digress. Anyway, the sketches of early bathing suits are great–an awful lot of fabric swirling around you in the water–but great. It must have been quite liberating, not to mention titillating, to wear one!
For those of you who are fans of old films, do you remember in Cheaper by the Dozen (the original film version starring Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb, 1950) when Father will not let his girls roll down their bathing stockings and expose their legs? All of this got me thinking about womens’ bathing suits during the 20th century.
Some of you might remember, or at least have seen, the structured suits of the 1950s. Replete with enough boning to sink one to the bottom. Or, at least keep your posture perfect. Then there were the metal zippers that became difficult to open (and close) when swimming in salt water. Zippers of course were present in suits until lycra was invented and perfected into fabrics–quite late into the 1960s. And of course, the zippers were metal because common use of nylon zippers was also in the late 1960s. So, this all brought me to shopping for vintage swimsuit patterns on eBay. I remember my grandmother, who studied dress design and construction in the Netherlands before immigrating in 1926, making many suits for me. Why buy if ‘Mommom’ could make better than the manufacturers? Besides, it allowed for fanciful design additions on my part! And, by the time I was in high school, I was also making suits. Poorly, but sewn from cotton fabric none-the-less.
By the way, the little booklet, Bathing Suits, The Milbury Atlantic Supply Co., The Milbury Atlantic Supply Co., New York, publisher, Soft cover, Condition: Very Good, No Book Jacket, No publishing date, c. 1890.
Catalog from around 1890 featuring bathing suits from the Milbury Atlantic Supply Company, New York. Cover states, “The Finest Line of Bathing Suits and at Price the Lowest to be found in this City”. First 21 pages devoted to swim suits for both men, women and children, some illustrated with line drawings. Pages 22-28 advertise belts and shirts. Pages 29 to 43 advertise coats and outerwear for hunting and automobiles. The catalog features wholesale pricing. Interesting and rare. It is for sale through her website CCAntiquesandBooks.com (shameless plug.) So you, too, can dream about swimsuits!