If itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikinis (polka dotted or otherwise) aren't your style, then join collectors who look back with longing to a time of bathing beauties in flattering one-piece and demure two-piece suits.
Vintage swimwear has a growing collector base. Some collect pieces for their history and visual appeal, while others look for garments that can actually be worn – although the chemicals in modern pools make it a wiser choice to sunbathe, rather than swim, in order to prevent damage. If you manage to find a suit by any of the coveted makers such as Jantzen, Catalina or DeWeese, or have an early piece, it’s probably safer to keep it completely dry.
You can find vintage suits online at Ruby Lane, eBay, Etsy and other places for around $50 to $100 on average, but will pay more for a brand name or historically significant piece. The suits featured here are ones that have recently sold at auction.
A woman’s Victorian sailor-style bathing suit, $150.
His and her bathing suits from the 1920s, $150.
A red wool-knit bathing suit by Silhouette, 1930s, $80.
Ladies wool swimsuits, 1930s, one yellow with a flared modesty skirt and the other in salmon with navy “modern” motifs, labeled “Ajustan, Macy’s, New York,” $650.
A Jantzen tartan plaid cotton swimsuit romper, 1940s, in a halter style that ties behind the neck; $140.
Two-piece bathing suits, early 1940s, rayon satin, with stenciled designs and halter-tie tops, $850.
A 1950s green plaid cotton one-piece swimsuit with elastic smocking, Sun & Sand old store stock, $90.
A Rose Marie Reid “pin-up girl” swimsuit, 1960s, in a tropical-leaf pattern, $95. Reid was a Canadian designer and by 1946, half of all swimsuits in Canada were one of her designs. Her philosophy on swimwear: “Every woman should feel just as glamorous in a swimsuit as she does in an evening gown.”
Two-piece cotton bathing suits, from left: an Indonesian print with sarong-wrap bottom, 1960s; a 1950s’ red suit, with white and black heart print; a 1970s’ blue and white houndstooth print with lace trim, $425.
President John F. Kennedy’s favorite sport was swimming. He was on the Harvard swim team and his swimming skills also allowed him to save the lives of his crew members in World War II. These light blue swimming trunks, that he's shown wearing in the photo below, were recovered from the presidential yacht, The Honey Fitz, and sold at auction for $3,500.