Last Friday I went to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey to see Riviera Style. The exhibition celebrated the clothing worn in and by the sea and how clothing design, fabric and attitudes to exposing the body have changed since the nineteenth century.
The moment I put on my swimming costume I am filled with that terrifying feeling you get the second before you realise that you’re dreaming and not actually walking down the street stark naked with all lumps, bumps and stray hairs exposed to the world.
My current costume has been horribly neglected. The swimming pool chlorine has worn patches away in the material because I only ever give it a cursory rinse through after a trip to the pool. It just seems plain daft to me to wash something that is already wet!
As I watched through the exhibition it reminded me of the two cossies that I loved best.
The first one was a hand me down from my Aunty Betty that I was given when I was about eight. Every year she would send us a box of clothes her children had outgrown. One year there was a lovely ruched cotton swimming costume with a halter neck. It was so comfortable to wear and it always smelled of the sea and Ambre Soleil sun oil. As it was ruched it stretched so I was able to keep on wearing it for a few years until I finally outgrew it. I have a fond memory of sitting on a beach at the end of day wearing it, with a cardigan knitted by my mum and plastic sandals. As a treat I was allowed a Horlicks drink from the beach café.
The next favourite came years later. It was a nineteen twenties style black cotton costume. I always felt that I could swim better when I was wearing it. The long leg length was flattering and reassuring to wear. It was heart-breaking when that one became so faded and worn that it had the same effect as walking down the street naked.
Enjoy looking at these pictures of vintage swimwear.