1950s Swimsuits, a Feature of our Frantic Fashion From the 1950s Travelling Exhibit


Swimsuit styles of the 1950s are worth taking a second look. We’ve pulled them out of the archives in readyness for our travelling exhibit of iconic 1950s fashion. Here’s what makes them so interesting:

At a time when suburbia was in its infancy and backyard pools promised a luxury lifestyle, swimsuits were not only structured with hidden corsetry, but were fully accessorized with straw hats, beach bags, rubber bathing caps, bold sunglasses, cabana jackets, and sarong cover-ups.

During the 1950s, swimsuit designers ensured that fit was key, and flattering styles could be found to enhance every figure. How could they not? Bathing suits rivaled evening gowns and sundresses with their glamorous styling and meticulous dressmaking details. Designers like Tina Leser, Orry Kelly, Edith Head, Travis Banton, Mary Ann DeWeese, and Netty Rosentein achieved hourglass silhouettes through the use of boning, inner corsetry, padded bra cups, elasticzed tummy panels, and careful seaming.

In addition, dressmaking details were used to draw the eye away from figure flaws and toward figure features with techniques such as bustline embellishments and petal skirts.

Buttons and bows, rikrak and ruching, smocking and tucking added impact to all suit designs whether they be the one-piece maillot style, the two-piece bathing suit or the bikini. In 1952, for example, swimsuit bodices boasted pompon fringe and wing-dings — contrast fabric bustline flaps which would be tilted up to minimize a large bust or slanted down to enhance a small one. These flaps mimicked the tailfins which characterized the cars of that era.

While brightly-colored plaids, polka dots, and prints were popular for cotton bathing suits, glittery metallics like gold and silver lame also made the scene. Swimsuits of the 1950s are especially popular with vintage fashion collectors and are easily identified by their sturdy fabrication, inner corset-like construction, and modest bikini-line coverage. Most were cut in a straight line at the bikini line, shortening the leg but emphasizing an hour-glass silhouette. Removeable straps and/or halter necklines, which could be untied, aided sunbathing.

Swimsuit advertising posters of the 1950s — which are also highly collectible — embody the spirit of the times and exemplify both the male and female silhouette, iconic of that fashion period. Magazine ads and cardboard posters promoting high fashion swimsuits by Janzen, Gantner, Cole, and Hollywood present an idealized image of the 1950s lifestyle. Brylcreemed male models in boxer-style lycra swim trunks worn high to cover the navel, lounge poolside, while sleekly coiffed pin-up girls in red lipstick and dark eyebrow pencil strike alluring poses in their highly structured pool and beachwear.

The 1950s was an age of television beauty contests. Swimsuit competitions which highlighted these events, did much to further the popularity of the high fashion swimsuit and were the genesis for specialized swimsuit glamour photography.

One advertising newsreel ca. 1952 featured suits by Cole and Hollywood touted “ Heavenly bodies” bathing suits in the new gold lastex, 2 piece skirted petal suits and mother-and- daughter matched suits. A Janzen’s tagline boasted the “most beautiful, beautifying swim suits in the world.

Collectors looking for authentic 1950s swimwear should look for petal suits, and skirted bikinis, with features like halter neckline, strapless or removeable strap maillots, elasticized fabric, ruched tummy panels, pointy bra cups, metal zippers, elastic gussets and belts.

There is still time to book our Frantic Fashion from the 1950s vintage costume exhibit for your location.


Happy Nurses’ Week

Happy Nurses’ Week from the Mobile Millinery Museum & Costume Archive as we add vintage uniforms and caps to our Nightingale collection. Hats off to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Lakeshore GeneralLakeshore General, Chedoke, St. Peter’s Hospital, and Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital  nurse's weekwhere I learned much in my 18-year nursing career.

Titanic era Dresses Headed to Mississauga

In between studying for two psychology exams this week, I’ll be pulling some pieces from archives and packing them for a presentation of #EdwardianFashion. The Mobile Millinery Museum & Costume archive will be returning to Parkland on the Glen Retirement Residence April 14th our ‘Unsinkable Fashion from the Titanic era’ show, An exhibit of authentic Titanic era fashion, much of it as ethereal as the fog that surrounded the fated ship itself.  

These are the days that give me joy, so, I’ll be putting on my white gloves and thinking of our foremothers in their elegant silks and wide brimmed hats. I know it wasn’t all lace and tea cakes, (there was suffrage, and war, and tragedy), but we’ll be looking at beauty on the weekend and marvelling at the talent of those who created it. Parkland on the glen.jpg What treasures have been handed down in your family?



What’s YOUR Favourite Easter bonnet?

Judy Garland hat

Every day is hat day for me, but for you more conservative types, tomorrow’s the day you can cast aside your inhibitions and don the most glorious chapeau you can find.

This is also the weekend to watch that classic feel-good movie, Easter Parade.  You will be inspired to buy a fabulous hat if you don’t already have one – or even if you do. The sun  is shining, April is almost here, and tomorrow we get to eat chocolate. Do we need another reason to celebrate?

Well…tomorrow we can say “He is risen, He is risen indeed!” and I’ll be going to church in a hat.

What will you be wearing? Send me a pick.

How to Enjoy my Books for Free


Yesterday, a friend and writing colleague told me she asked her local library to order in my latest book: Darlings of Dress: Children’s Costume 1860 – 1920. They did, and she is thrilled to know she’ll be the first to crack open that brand new book.

If you’re a card-carrying member of a public library you can do the same. It’s possible to do it in person or on-line. Give them the name of the book, the author (be sure and spell Shephard with an “A”), and they should be able to find it.

If you’d rather own the book, mine are all available from Amazon.com. The fashion history books above are published by Schiffer Books & Dear Harry can be found at Volumes Books.

But, hey, why not read them for free!

So, talk to your  local librarian, ask for the book of your choice, and enjoy. Leave me a comment to let me know how you make out.