In the swim, by Ruth Spencer

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

These wild-armed man­nequins are mod­el­ling the lat­est in Cal­i­for­nian swimwear by Rose Marie Reid in the late 1940s. Reid fa­mously (un)dressed Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Rita Hay­worth but for her less per­fect cus­tomers she pi­o­neered many flat­ter­ing swimwear break­throughs. She in­vented in­ner bras, tummy-tuck­ing pan­els, the use of elas­ti­cated fab­ric and stay-down legs. Imag­ine a world in which your swim­suit legs don’t stay down and of­fer si­lent thanks to Reid.

Be­fore the use of elas­tic, swim­suits were gen­er­ally made of wool, a sur­pris­ing choice given both its warmth and lack of aqua­dy­nam­ics. Some peo­ple even hand-knit­ted their togs — the trick was to make them slightly too tight when dry, so that they stretched to fit snugly. You’d think the ad­vent of elas­tic would have be the end of un-swim-suit­able fab­rics, but in 1950 they were still toy­ing with vel­vet suits. You never can tell with fash­ion; af­ter all, these di­a­mond-shaped midriff cutouts of the pic­ture are on-trend again to­day, 70 years af­ter they fea­tured in John Court’s depart­ment store win­dow.

John Court’s was at the cor­ner of Queen St and Vic­to­ria St; the build­ing cur­rently adorned by the beloved/no­to­ri­ous giant Santa that her­alds Auck­land’s Christ­mas. Swim­suits were on the Christ­mas gift list in 1946 as the range of avail­able goods ex­panded af­ter some lean war years: a gift guide men­tions “ul­tra-mod­ern” swimwear in good sup­ply, but men’s shirts still hard to come by.

That same year a win­dow dis­play of French swim­suits in Welling­ton caused con­fu­sion: would such dar­ing suits ac­tu­ally be per­mit­ted on the beach? The coun­cil re­gret­ted to ad­vise: nope, banned.

The ar­ti­cle car­ries no de­scrip­tion, so we can only sur­mise that they didn’t have the new stay-down legs.

Win­dow dis­play fea­tur­ing Cal­i­for­nian-de­signed Rose Marie Reid swimwear at John Court depart­ment store, Auck­land.

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