August 6, 2012

1940s Style Swimsuit

Marie Antoinette models the finished product. Isn't she a beach beauty?

I think this has been my favorite project this year. It was immensely fun to sew and I must say, I am quite proud of the way it turned out. XD

I knew when I started this project that I wanted a two-piece suit for ease of use and wear. And I most definitely wanted a vintage-styled suit, or at the very least a vintage-inspired suit. I thumbed through countless Google images searches and Tumblr searches and vintage pattern searches looking at the different styles of the decades.

The swimsuits here are from 1946. I really liked the white one on the left.

The 1940s suits definitely attracted my attention and I finally decided (after taking inspiration from these gorgeous images) that I wanted a halter top with a skirted bottom. The bottom had to be high-waisted, of course!

Simplicity 1022 from 1944. Halter top, high-waisted skirt.

I looked at a lot of extant swimsuits from the 40s and 50s (mostly on etsy) and discovered one very important thing: they were not made of spandex like today's suits, as spandex didn't exist at the time! Instead they were constructed of materials like wool, wool jersey, and even plain old cotton!

"Feather print" halter and skirt made of cotton; found on etsy.

Thus my conundrum: I could purchase a vintage pattern that was meant for these fabrics and try to make it up in spandex, hoping the difference would not be too great; or, I could buy a modern pattern, alter the heck out of it to make it look vintage, and then sew it up in spandex. There was no way I was going to make a swimsuit out of cotton or wool jersey!

Blue halter & skirt, c. 1946.

So in the end, I chose no pattern, I just winged it mostly. That's the great thing about spandex, it's so incredibly forgiving. I had a lot of help from Olivia's Swimsuit eBook, which takes you through the entireties of swimsuit drafting and construction. Reasonably priced (I thought) and great for the novice like me. Obviously my swimsuit is a lot different from hers, so even if you're not planning on making one pictured in the eBook, I would definitely recommend checking it out!

I also traced a pair of my grandmother's vintage swim shorts (which, quite happily, fit me perfectly) to make the underwear for the skirt.

The spandex was purchased from Spandex World. They have a wonderful selection of prints and patterns but I would not heartily recommend purchasing from them unless you see something you can't live without. The fabric samples were free, arrived quickly and were a great help, but the fabric took its own time and when it arrived, didn't even have an invoice in the package! I still have not received one. Customer service is, needless to say, not that great. The fabric itself is priced fairly reasonably especially since you only need 1-2 yds for a suit.

I loved Maureen O'Sullivan's suit in this picture!

Thread was regular cotton blend in a matching color; I used only one piece of elastic (to gather the center of the halter) in the entire suit and it was not swimwear elastic so I hope it holds up.

The halter came first and was incredibly easy to make.

 I used one of my old bras as a base and simply took a rectangle of fabric, as per Olivia's instructions, and gathered it with elastic in the middle, and again on the sides.

From here I snipped off the bra's sides and straps and attached my own, simple rectangles that tie at the neck and back. Easy peasy.

The skirt and undies were a bit harder. As aforementioned, the undies were traced from my grandma's pair of swim shorts so they fit in true vintage fashion!

The skirt is simply a half-circle (drafted to fit me from Olivia's instructions) and the undies and skirt are sewn together at the top with a waistband. There is no elastic in the waistband; I just made it tighter to fit me so I wouldn't have to fuss with all of that. Luckily spandex stretches.

And there you have it! A 40s style suit with the convenience of modern fabrics. It all came together surprisingly fast and was so easy to make; I think I have a love affair with spandex. You don't have to hem it, you don't have to worry about your garments fitting perfectly because it's so forgiving, and it whips up so quickly! See you at the beach. ;)

*Please note that I am in no way compensated and/or affiliated with the companies/products listed above.


  1. This is crazy cute! Great job

  2. I would like to see pictures of the construction, specially the top, you say they are simple triangles but I would like to see how you did it. Thanks! and as I said in wesewretro " I love it!"

  3. This is wonderful! I'm fascinated reading this post, once again ... I love everything in this bathing suit, the fabric is very grateful and the colors are gorgeous. and of course the contruction of the suit is so smart! Bravo!