Gigantic Old-Fashioned Wool Bathing Suits For Every Body

Memorial Day is here, and Memorial Day means the beginning of summer*! And summer means bathing suits! And bathing suits mean bathing suit shopping, and bathing suit shopping means falling further and further into despair as a cheerful shopping attendant tries to bring you ill-fitting bikinis, ending up like a real-life version of a late-80s Cathy comic. ACKKKK!!!

It doesn’t have to be like this. Once upon a time, swimwear experienced a golden age, when toned abs and cellulitic thighs alike were covered by thick woolen fabric. I’m talking about the 1860s through the 1920s, the bathing suit’s zenith.

So, like so many fashion magazines, we thought we would help you find a bathing suit. Nay, not just any bathing suit, the absolute perfect old-timey bathing suit for your body type. Spoiler: it probably weights over 5 pounds and comes with a superfluous belt.

* Also technically, solemn reflection for those who have gone before us. But mostly barbeques! [Source: my Facebook feed]

Apple Shaped

The real challenge for the apple-shaped woman is choosing between a two-piece (which is going to expose your midsection), or dealing with clingy Lycra and spandex adhering to your belly. However, in the 1880s you could let it all hang out (and then immediately cover all of it with wool). For ladies who carry their weight in their (neatly corseted) midsection, these full, proud pantaloons lead the eye down and balance your proportions. Bonus: the giant legs makes your feet look like Barbie feet tacked onto a My Buddy doll.

Pear Shaped

In the present day, ladies with serious hip-thigh situations spend a lot of time looking for bathing suit bottoms that actually cover their entire butt. In 1864, these styles from Godey’s Lady’s Book had your ass covered! As well as your knees, calves, and forearms. Note the shape of these swim costumes, which flare out… shall we say generously? from the waist. Today’s fashion is all about trying to camouflage your derriere, but this is a suit that says “oh, these hips are on purpose.”

Petite

Hey there, little lady! What better way to take advantage of your petite proportions than dressing like an actual pixie? You know everyone’s thinking it, anyway. Note the zig-zag hem on the far left, a style that says “I made this outfit out of a flower petal.” The style is complemented by criss-cross lace-up shoes, telling everyone on the beach “yeah, I could be a ballerina with this petite body shape and delicate swim dress.” The sassy turban at far right indicates “I’m Bohemian! But I mean, Bohemian in the “La Boheme” sense. I might have consumption. But look how petite!” Carrying a blanket around, like our friend in the “maillot” style,  reminds other beach-goers that you are very tiny and cold.

Hourglass

With its kicky sailor collar, sodden wool skirt, and improbably small waist, the only way this suit could better enhance your hourglass figure is if your bosom gradually filled with sand if somebody tipped you over.

Athletic

 

You’ve worked hard at the gym. You run, you lift, and summer time is the big payoff. So leave the pantaloons at home, because you have toned your way into this formfitting tank dress. In case people couldn’t tell that you work out by your awesome quads and triceps, you can steal a robe from an actual prizefighter to let them know you’ve been putting in your hours at the gymnasium.

If you’re prepared to rock this style, you will be showing a LOT of skin – so don’t let it get all burned and gross. Sport a straw witches’ hat with a four-foot brim to keep away unwanted sunbeams and attention. If you look this good, you gotta ward off those crowds somehow.

Full-Figured

This demure nautical romper will cover up everything you want covered, and even some things you probably don’t.

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Women’s Fashion (According To A 1976 Encyclopedia)

Remember how, before the internet, we had to read real, physical books to find things out? In my family, that meant turning to the cobalt-blue 1976 Encyclopedia Americana. One volume in the set was a yearbook that detailed the world events and current trends of the age. I was so obsessed with the fashion section — both out of genuine interest and childish snark — that the book still opens right to that page.

In the mid-90s, I turned to the Encyclopedia for help with Social Studies reports. In the mid-70s, people were turning to the Encyclopedia for help with looking as fly as possible. Such was the pre-internet age.

Let’s take a walk through 1976 fashion, as described in the vibrant pose of the Encyclopedia Americana editors.

  • “Chinese fashion”

    Shhh! Nobody can tell I’m Caucasian!

* Women’s fashion was “influenced by denim and China.” I hope that means you could buy a mandarin-collared denim dress or one of those flat rice-picking hat in Levi’s blue.

* The photo of the woman displaying “The Chinese look” looks like she’s wearing a kind of racist Halloween costume. I guess at least they didn’t say “Oriental?”

* Sometimes when I read this entry, I feel like a time-traveler from the future and wish that I could just save everyone without accidentally killing my own grandfather. The editors write that “politically, the effects of detente with China may not be known for years.” Not to spoil it, but the effects are a little known now and HOLY SHIT WE ALL NEED TO LEARN MANDARIN. What are you DOING, 1976? Stop importing their beautiful silk daywear because they are going to RUN us.

* Bitches wore mad “frog closings” and “coolie” jackets, I guess.

* OK, the encyclopedia DID end up saying Oriental, and they only capitalize it like half of the time. Casual racism is one thing, but casual racism AND sloppy copy-editing? I can’t.

  • Denim

* Real sentence: “The jean craze continued to mushroom at an unbelievable pace.”

* Another real sentence: “The better the figure was, the tighter the jean.” Hey 1976, could you please give that advice to literally everyone I saw at the bus stop the other day? Because the 2013 rule of thumb is apparently: “no matter what the hell your figure looks like, just say “screw it” and buys your pants 2 sizes too small.”

* In the “most horrible thing I’ve ever heard of in my life other than disease, hunger, and genocide” category: the “two-zipper” was in fashion. Jeans closed with two side front zippers instead of the usual fly front. I don’t even understand how this would work. Maybe one of you has an engineering degree and can help? I’m picturing a weird flap that would hang down, like an overall bib except in your crotch neighborhood, with a zipper on either side. If there’s one thing I definitely don’t need, it’s a 100% increase in the likelihood that I’ll forget to zipper my pants. I imagine that if you have any kind of stomach or side fat, it will accidentally get zippered into the “side front zippers” at least once.

* Unsurprising: “work” clothes like khaki fatigues, railroad overalls, and mechanic suits took off.

* Surprising: This “was an expression of the belief in the virtues of honest labor, even if the person wearing them was not engaged in it.” Encylcopedia Americana? You’re reaching. Although, sometimes I do wear a full McDonald’s uniform or nurses’ scrubs just to demonstrate that I believe in work. Who am I to talk?

  • Ladylike Dressing

* According to this section, sometimes women wore skirts and dresses, but other times they wore pants. That’s really the gist.

* Sometimes women wore suits, with “dramatic capes and soft coats” over “multilayers of separates.” The encyclopedia isn’t scratch-n-sniff, but I’m pretty confident they also smelled like sweat and patchouli.

  • The Sporting Life

* The jumper was back. A million home-schooling moms rejoiced, probably.

* Sweaters were “an education in ethnic artistic expression.” I’d complain about the cultural appropriation issues, but I am wearing “tribal” flats right now. I like to pretend that there is just a tribe of Target People who live in the basement of one of their warehouses in Indiana or somewhere, designing these things. I bet they even have native folk songs. Maybe that’s what Taylor Swift is.

  • Accessories

* Scarfs were worn big, in the “simple peasant style” or “elaborately as Arabian or African headdresses.” On behalf of white people, I apologize. This is really bad. I get annoyed at racist Halloween costumes, but apparently in 1976, every day was Racist Halloween.

You could even wear your scarf with an elaborate Art Deco costume while shopping in a general store from the 1800s.

* “Handbags ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

* “oriental jewelry” was popular (read: jade). They used the lower-case “o” for oriental, so this may just be jewelry worn to the east of other jewelry, not Asian-inspired as such.

  • The Feminine Foot

* Engineers, HELP. The earth shoe was “designed to lower the heel and raise the sole of the foot for comfort.” Does anyone know how that’s comfortable? They sound like those terrible McQueen cloven-hoof shoes.

Based on the above, here is a rough sketch of The Woman of 1976.