How to Shop for Vintage Swimwear

With the current summer weather (for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere), swimsuit season is well and truly here. It’s understandable that vintage-inspired may not be as appealing for some who want a true vintage swimsuit but they can be pretty difficult to shop, especially online. After shopping for vintage swimsuits for many years, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks to help make your shopping experience as easy as possible.

Swimwear from the 40’s an 50’s was not made out of the nylons, scuba and lyrca fabrics we are familiar with today. Popular fabrics such as jersey and rayon had nylon and elastic added to allow for a better streth over the body and a more flattering fit when worn. Eventually improvements came to Lastex, a rubberized material which began development in the 1940’s which promised a more comfortable swimsuit. This combined with acetate, taffeta, and cotton created most of the swimsuits materials of the 1950s.

There were quite a few different swimsuit styles and trends during the 50’s so keep in mind that finding a bikini may be more difficult than finding a one piece. The structure of vintage swimwear is much more complex than today’s styles. Swimsuits from the 1950’s often featured rouching on the sides, back side or even at the front to help the suit look flattering on the wearer. Many vintage swimsuits had breast padding, a built in bra unit sometimes with internal straps for more support, boning in the bodice and sewn in overskirts.

Sorry for the brief history tangent but, if none of this sounds appealing, a true vintage swimsuit is probably not for you. Don’t worry, there are plenty of modern day vintage inspired swimsuits that can be more suited to your style, comfort and needs. During the 50’s, most swimwear wasn’t really for swimming in and more a fashion moment at the beach which is why there were rubber swimming panties to help with body roll smoothing and swimsuits were heavily boned. Also, some trends today may look a little … odd. I don’t want to yuck someone’s yum, but bubble/balloon shorts on the bottom of a swimsuit just don’t really flatter many body shapes and can look a little like a diaper. It’s worth noting that vintage swimsuits are generally heavier, especially when wet, and not made out of todays light-weight fabrics so may be uncomfortable for certain users.

Miss MonMon wearing a 1950’s vintage swimsuit found in London. Made from cotton with back ruching and a red rose print. Photo by Hot Pixel.

Know your size/body shape

-If you’re a frequent vintage shopper, you will know that vintage sizing is all over the place and most items are considered quite small. Familiarise yourself with your bodies measurements (especially the bust, waist and hips) if you are to go shopping for vintage swimwear.
-With some vintage styles being designed to accentuate certain body parts, keep in mind if this is something that will be flattering to you.
-Have an idea of what stye you are after and be prepared to hunt around (also keep in mind a budget).

If shopping online

-If shopping online, read the description carefully! This will help you decide if the swimsuit is a good fit and size for you, it may mention what material the swimsuit is made from (you can decide if this helps with stretch) and you can find out if there is any damage on the piece.
-Feel free to ask the seller for more information to make sure the swimsuit best fits you. For example, I’m quite long in the torso so I ask for torso measurements and also ask if there’s much stretch in certain directions.

Miss MonMon wearing true vintage bathers and Brothers and Sisters turban in Bali.

If shopping in person

-Try on the swimsuit! I don’t care how tired or hot and sweaty you feel, try on the vintage swimsuit because thats the best way to see how it looks on your body.
-If you get a chance, check out the foundations of the swimsuit to see if anything is loose, broken or ripped. As vintage swimsuits were so well constructed, they need to be well put together to achieve their desired effect.
-Pay close attention to any parts of the swimsuit that have rubber or elastic to see if it’s still holding up or if it needs to be replaced.
-Notice if the straps are in good condition and if both are present (unless it was designed with a halter strap in mind).

If the swimsuit needs fixing;

-oooh you may be in for a bit of a challenge.
-Unless you’re confident with taking apart a structured garment, it may be best to take your swimsuit in for repairs somewhere they are familiar with vintage fashions. Replacing elastic and boning can be a bit of a challenge but once fully fixed up, it can be completely worth it.

Depending where you live and how easy vintage swimwear is to find around you, be prepared to do a fair bit of hunting. As much as I love online shopping, I’ve never bought a vintage swimsuit from an online retailer as I need to try on the suit to see how it fits on my body. Being tall it helps to see if the swimsuit will fit me plus with certain items, I like to inspect them myself so I know how much fixing they need. I’ve managed to pick up a few really special swimsuits which I absolutely love over the years and I am learning what styles work and which don’t.

Some people may find wearing second hand or even vintage swimsuits a bit gross due to where they sit on the body. I do recommend inspecting the crotch of any swimsuit and replacing any lining that looks questionable or damaged. You cannot catch a STI from second hand swimwear as most diseases do not survive outside the body for very long. I do recommend giving your vintage swim a good wash with a little disinfectant to ensure it’s clean but like a lot of vintage clothes, you should be pretty safe.

Miss MonMon wearing true vintage swimsuit. Photo by Angie Delarie

If you’re having no luck finding the perfect vintage swimsuit, trust me, I know the struggle. But luckily with the help of the internet and modern technologies, there are heaps of places for you to find a vintage inspired swimsuit with all the positives of modern fashion technology. I will be releasing a list of my favourite retro inspired swimsuits soon so please check back.


Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. There are no affiliate links and I do not benefit from any link clicks or purchases made.

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