Babes, bathers and bathing suits at Maritime Museum

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Photo courtesy Vancouver Maritime Museum.

It’s summer, it’s Vancouver, and what better way to celebrate than with a history of (drum roll, please)… the swimsuit!

From June 28-Nov. 2, the Maritime Museum presents Babes & Bathers: History of the Swimsuit. This retrospective looks at swimwear design and fashion since the 1890s – even before the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue came into being.

Where does Vancouver fit into this, you ask?

“This is a city surrounded by water. Going to the beach and owning a swimsuit is and always has been a key part of our identity as Vancouverites,” exhibit curator Patricia Owen says in a press release.

Babes & Bathers will feature a fashion show runway of over 60 original swimsuits with historical images and video. The show illuminates the changes in swimwear design, from the modest wool suits of the 1890s to the considerably less modest fashions of the late 20th century. The heritage suits are drawn primarily from one of North America’s largest private collections of fashion, which is owned by local fashion historian Ivan Sayers.

According to Owen, “Many of the key developments in the design of swimsuits occurred right here in our own backyard.”

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It’s You by Pete Hawley for Life Magazine (May 23 1952). Image courtesy the Maritime Museum.

For instance, have you heard about Rose Marie Reid? In 1938, after her husband complained about how uncomfortable and heavy wool bathing suits became when wet, Reid created a pair of trunks out of an old cotton duck-fabric coat. Not the first pair of Speedos, exactly, but men’s swim trunks would never be the same. By 1946, Reid had a successful company and was making 50 per cent of all the swimming suits sold in Canada. In 1955, Sports Illustrated named her Designer of the Year.

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Unidentified bathers in Stanley Park. Photo courtesy Vancouver Maritime Museum.

You can find out more about Reid and other pioneers of swimwear at Babes & Bathers: History of the Swimsuit, June 28 – Nov 8, 2014 at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1905 Ogden Ave., Vancouver, BC. Summer hours: Mon – Sun 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Thursdays by donation 5 p.m.-8 p.m.

Tickets: $11 adults, $8.50 students/seniors, $30 family. Visit vancouvermaritimemuseum for tickets.

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