Can you remember what you wore for swimming in your childhood? Having found a few photos I realise that the nature of ‘bathing costumes’ has changed incredibly in my lifetime. I think a lot of it is because of the arrival and development of nylon and stretchable fabrics as it seems that in the 1940s and early 50s we wore knitted costumes. I can still remember how prickly they felt.
In New Zealand we spent a lot of time in the water or playing on the beach/lakeshore. This meant that we wore our ‘togs’ as they were called, for long hours in the middle of summer. Having two sets was wonderful because it meant you could take off the wet one at lunchtime and put on a dry one when you went back to the beach mid-afternoon. Even so, I think I was almost a teenager before I had two sets. As our family holiday house was just across the road from the best beach on the lake shore at Taupo, we just used to wear a shirt and shorts over the top and take them off after we had crossed the road. No wrapping ourselves in towels to change discretely in our family!
At some point in the 1950s woollen costumes gave way to cotton that had been given some shape by rows of shirring elastic stitched into the wrong (under) side. I can remember being very pleased when this gave way and the fabric did not cling properly because it meant we could have a new costume. I think we wore this type until the early sixties. I had photos taken in 1960 that show my friends in this attire but unfortunately they were destroyed in our house fire so I am not able to provide an illustration.
Here is a photo of my sister and her cousin. Our cousin was a girl and I can remember being a bit surprised that at this point (she was about five) she wore 'boys' togs without a top to them. That would never have happened in our family.
I cannot remember when we started wearing proper ‘stretch’ fabric but it must have been in the sixties. The same goes for two-piece bathing suits. I think I was grown up before I wore anything approaching a bikini!
Another item of beach wear was the ‘towelling jacket’. This was a thigh length cover up that became very popular in the sixties. I remember having one in fabric with a lime green background with modernist patterns on it. Very trendy. And later, just after we got married, I remember making towelling jackets for both my husband and myself.
You can see from the photos that rubber bathing caps were also worn when we were younger. My main memory of them is that my sister had a red one which attracted a wasp, back in the later 1950s when wasps first appeared in New Zealand. We all know that wasps like red and my poor sister was forced to spend a long time keeping still in the water as we could not get it to move away.
And why was what we wore called ‘togs’? I do not really know but it was definitely a New Zealand word as when I moved to Australia I had to unlearn it and learn to say ‘bathers’. Then I came to England and it was ‘bathing suit’. Swimming costume was always a term I associated with my mother’s generation.