It’s been a very hot summer here in Toronto. The Toronto Standard’s recent article on nearby Sunnyside Beach is a reminder of how Torontonians coped with high temperatures in the days before air conditioning. The stretch of Lake Ontario shoreline known as Sunnyside Beach was a popular bathing spot from the early 20th century on, and the beach’s popularity was given a boost with the opening of Sunnyside Amusement Park in 1922. The amusement park was mostly demolished in 1955 to make room for the Gardiner Expressway, but some of the original structures remain, including the boat house and dance hall Palais Royale and the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion.
Vintage beachwear patterns open a similar window onto summers past. What women wore to the beach can seem to encapsulate an era, both because beachwear is an especially trend-driven category of women’s wear and because of the attitudes to the female body it often reveals. In this post you’ll find a selection of beachwear patterns from the 1930s to the 1980s.* Enjoy!
Here’s a late thirties Vogue pattern from the Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA). Follow the image link for CoPA’s virtual exhibition on swimwear patterns.
The 1930s also saw a fashion for beach pajamas, lounge wear for days at the beach. This illustration from McCall’s magazine shows new patterns for beach fashions. The first pattern is for a kerchief top, dolman jacket and beach trousers, the second makes a gorgeous beach wrap:
- (You can see the accompanying text in this Etsy listing.) Here are a couple early ’30s McCall patterns for beach pajamas:
Simplicity’s promotional material calls this late ’30s halter design “a pajama ensemble for sun-tan fans.” (See linked wiki page for repro information.)
The forties saw the rise of two-piece bathing suits with pinup-style, high-waisted skirts or tap pants for the bottoms. Vogue 9046 is an early but typical ’40s swimsuit. (See linked wiki page for repro information.)
This McCall design is for a cute tie-back, halter top style with pleated bottoms:
I found this transitional late ’40s pattern through Oodles and oodles’ series on the patterns of sisters Alice and Edna. It’s one of my favourites:
Fifties beachwear shows the same silhouettes and details as the decade’s women’s wear. The cover-up in this mid-’50s pattern is basically a shorter version of a wasp-waisted, full-skirted fifties day dress (but check out the crazy tiki hat):
In 1956 Emilio Pucci did a series of designs for McCall’s that included this skirted, strapless bathing suit:
(Wade Laboissonniere includes a McCall’s photo of the Pucci pattern in his Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1950s, p. 127.)
This sarong style of swimsuit carried over into the early ’60s:
Early sixties swimsuit patterns tend to be variations on the modest two-piece with shorts or boy-cut briefs. Here’s the pattern image for the early ’60s beach kimono pictured at the top of this post. The pattern also included a one- or two-piece bathing suit:
Vogue 6212 includes a babydoll beach dress and a hat similar to the one worn by Jessica Paré as Megan in Season 4 of Mad Men:
Two-pieces seem to have made the decisive shift to bikinis in the later 1960s:
Seventies swimwear showed sleeker lines, still with a lower-cut leg. Maxi cover-ups came into fashion as the decade progressed. Here’s a fabulous early ’70s Vogue one-piece (with a ’60s-style hat and cover-up):
During the ’70s Vogue Patterns also released designer swimwear patterns by Catalina and Penfold (including Anne Klein for Penfold). The bikinis are actually pretty classic:
Eighties swimwear had a new, higher-cut leg and favoured the high-contrast brights and prints typical of the decade. Oleg Cassini’s line of patterns for Simplicity included this one-piece swimsuit with pareo:
Brooke Shields also licensed some designs with McCall’s, including a few swimwear patterns. Here’s the one that hits the most ’80s trends:
And in case you needed instruction in swimwear sewing techniques, Vogue Patterns had a book for you:
*For those interested in pre-1930s swimwear patterns, you can see a repro pattern for a 19th century bathing costume here; some early 20th century bathing suit patterns here and here; and some 1920s swimsuit patterns here and here.