Have you worn your bathing suit this summer?

In the history of bathing suit fashion, achieving the right balance of modesty, material, and motion has been a major challenge. Not to mention sex appeal.   Maybe you’d prefer one of these styles from the past…   Many of us without “perfect bodies” have experienced some degree of anxiety while parading — or should I say skulking — from the relative safety of lying on a beach blanket to the exposure one must endure while entering the water. Some of us might go for this crinoline bathing suit style depicted in a cartoon from 1865.   Back in the 18th century, bathing suits were meant more for wading than actual swimming. A woman might enjoy a refreshing dip while wearing a flannel dress over trousers, and a pair of shoes. Weights might be sewn into the hem to keep her skirt from floating up. Men had it somewhat better in body-fitting wool suits with long legs and sleeves. But the need to apply sunscreen was a long way off.   Even though all this clothing pretty much covered the body as much as anything worn on the streets, people also felt the need to use “bathing machines” that helped transport them from sand to shore. These were never popular in the United States, but were commonly used in Europe. A horse would haul a little wood shed out to the shore where you could change into your swimsuit and descend into the water. Men swam in one area and women swam in another.   After the expansion of railroads in the 1800s, it became possible for people to visit sea side beaches in droves. This led to a need for more functional bathing suits.     Men’s bathing suits had also crept up in length, and it was okay to show arms without offending. By the early years of the 1900s, the trousers in women’s suits were shortened to bloomers, the dresses became tunic length, long sleeves turned into cap sleeves, and wool stockings covered the legs. Bathing caps were recommended to protect the fashionably long tresses from the damage of salt, sea and sun. But, since most suits were still made of flannel or even wool, the heavy weight of all that clothing was more likely to help a woman sink rather than swim. In the 1920s, women reached parity on the beach as well as in the voting booth. One-piece, wool jersey, sleeveless tanks suits hit the leg at mid-thigh. Stockings and shoes were no longer required. Women could finally float and vote. All this flaunting of skin caused a lot of anxiety, so many beaches established laws restricting how much could be shown. If a...

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The Rise and Fall of Hats in Women’s Fashion

When did hats become a fashion statement for women? From the beginning of hat-wearing history, women were expected to have their heads covered by veils, kerchiefs, hoods, caps and wimples, but it was not until the end of the 16th century that structured hats were worn. The styles were based on the hats worn by the male aristocracy. In the late 17th century, women’s hat fashions finally came into their own. Just as hemlines have gone up and down, hat sizes have fluctuated between large and small. Hats have influenced how hair was cut and styled… and hairstyles have influenced what kinds of hats were worn. In the 1830s, women liked big hair with lots of loops and knots. They wore bonnets with large crowns so the hair could fit underneath. The bonnets were often adorned with feathers, lace, artificial flowers, or some kind of fruit or vegetable.   During the Civil War era bonnets were still popular, but hairstyles were less elaborate and hats were more demure.                 By the turn of the century, popular culture influenced styles more than ever. Broadway shows like The Merry Widow made the Gainsborough style — re-dubbed the “Merry Widow” hat — all the rage. These wide-brimmed hats were elaborately adorned with flowers, ribbons, tulle, feathers, and even entire birds. Charles Dana Gibson’s illustrations for books, magazines and advertisements came to define how the “ideal” woman should look. “Gibson Girls” often wore their hair swept up off the forehead in a pompadour, reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, which would be built high using added hairpieces of puffs and curls. Many hatpins were required. Historically, the most highly regarded milliners were based in Paris. In the 1910s, designer Paul Poiret disapproved of large hats and endorsed a sleeker look. His influence helped make turbans and toques, which didn’t have brims, the era’s hat style of choice.   By the 1920s women were cutting off their long locks for short styles like the shingle and the bob. The cloche, a small hat that hugged the head like a helmet, became very popular. If you wanted to wear one, you needed to have your hair bobbed so it would fit inside.   From the 1930’s to the 1950’s New York was the world’s leading millinery city. Department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman made their own hats. And a workforce of immigrant workers, bolstered by a strong union, helped business in the garment district boom.   After World War II, women began to stop wearing hats on a regular basis. The mass-marketing of sunglasses may have had something to do with this.      ...

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A Brief History of the Fur Muff

In my novel, ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE, the story hinges on a journal that is found sewn inside the lining of a fur muff. So it seems only right to present some background about fur muff fashion. Muffs were mentioned in text from the 1400s, and one of the earliest images of one is in an engraving from 1588. In the 1600s both men and women used muffs. Since fur was not as easily attainable, they were more typically made out of silk or satin and might be elaborately decorated with lace and ribbons. People liked muffs because you could hide small things inside them. Ladies sometimes wore lapdogs inside their muffs. The Hudson Bay Company, a British company founded in 1670, opened up the market for fur muffs. Even middle-class people could now use them to warm their cold hands. Someone might own a few muffs made from different skins. Sable, ermine and grey squirrel were popular with women. Men might use otter, tiger or lynx. The fur was turned inside to soften the skin. In the late 1700s muffs were really popular and women used them more than men. However, now that they were more easily attainable, they tended to be large and unweildy. Fashion! The word “muff” has been used to suggestively refer to female genitalia. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “warm covering for the hands,” 1590s, from Du. mof “a muff,” shortened from M.Du. moffel “mitten, muff,” from M.Fr. moufle “mitten,” from O.Fr. mofle “thick glove, large mitten, handcuffs” (9c.), from M.L. muffula “a muff,” of unknown origin. In 17c.-18c. also worn by men. Meaning “vulva and pubic hair” is from 1690s; muff-diver “one who performs cunnilingus” is from 1935. In the early 1800s wealthy New Yorker John Jacob Astor financed The Pacific Fur Company, which became the largest American-owned fur trading entity. Astor made lots of money from the fur trade, but he made much more from buying up real estate in Manhattan. He owned lots of land in the area now known as Astor Place, which was named for him after his death in 1848. (And the store in my novel is named for the area.) By the 1860s, people were into fur coats as status markers. Fur muffs fell out of fashion, mainly because they weren’t necessary if you had warm coat pockets anyway. Muffs became popular again in the early 20th Century, especially because they could be useful while driving in the open automobiles of the day. But they never recaptured the popularity of earlier times. The increasing use of handbags as fashion statements contributed to their demise. Women can only carry so many accessories. During World War II interest in muffs resurged, partially...

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Short skirts and Go-Go Boots!

My mom has all these old Life Magazines she inherited from her mom, who used to own a Tuxedo Rental Store in Sacramento. I can’t stop paging through… “Many wary merchants believe that the new length, which is one and a half inches above the knee, is too drastic for anyone to wear but the young — and only the pretty-kneed young at that. Some designers feel, as Dior did, that all knees are ugly.” –Life Magazine 1964 Source: Uploaded by user via Stephanie on Pinterest     Chenille Polka Dot Ball Gown on sale at I Magnin’s (in 1964)                                   Knit Slack Suit on sale at Orbach’s (in...

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Fur Muff Mania

“I snuggled my hands inside the muff. Something hard pressed against my knuckle. Strange. I looked inside. The black satin lining had been torn at the seam and mended closed with uneven stitches. Had someone sewn something in there?” –from ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE   I’ve begun a new Pinterest board of fur muffs matched up with quotes from books mentioning “muffs” from the same era. Here’s a couple:   Source: Uploaded by user via Stephanie on Pinterest     Source: Uploaded by user via Stephanie on Pinterest   “She got up and walked about, twisting her hands together inside her white muff and every now and then lifting it to her face and laughing experimentally over the top of it. A famous actress had just been photographed laughing over a big white muff.” –from DISINHERITED, a novel by Stella M. Düring, 1907...

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