The Historical Society of Topsail Island enjoyed Elaine Blackmon Henson, native of Wilmington and former teacher, as the guest speaker on October 11. Henson has been collecting vintage ads and post cards and has written the book “Carolina Beach: A Postcard History,” as well as many articles for local magazines on vintage bathing suits, ads and postcards.
For me, it was a trip down “memory lane.” My very first “grown up” bathing suit was a “Cole of California” suit in the late 1950s. It was too expensive for me, but my brother who was in college and had a part time job, bought it for me for my birthday. It was beautiful! Ester Williams, actress, model, designer and swimwear entrepreneur, was a featured bathing beauty in some of the ads for Cole of California. (I felt like Esther Williams in my new suit!). Once her acting career was over, she put her design and sales skills to use by running her own swimwear company, now worth more than $3 million dollars.
Jantzen and Catalina were other big players. Jantzen started in the early 1900s when swimsuits were called “bathing costumes.” These were knee-length dresses with pantaloons and water shoes or boots. Very few people knew how to swim in those days. Swimming did not come into vogue until the 1920s as a fitness craze. Jantzen really picked up on that and changed the whole thought process from bathing to swimming. Jantzen worked with different materials that helped with sunning and tanning. They created suits that allowed women to uncover their shoulders so they may tan evenly. It became more acceptable to the general public to have the female silhouette be something beautiful and not covered up. They had different kinds of advertising and provided bathing suits for the Olympics. Catalina began promoting beauty pageants and their swimwear was seen on models in the Miss America pageants. This gave them visibility similar to Jantzen’s.
All in all, it was a most enjoyable trip to see a little slice at what life looked like in the 1900s, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the fifties and sixties — on the beach, at any rate!
The Historical Society welcomes guests and visitors. Contact www.topsailhistoricalsociety.org for more information. For information about the Missiles and More Museum, contact Director, Rose Peters at (910)328-2488.
The next luncheon will be on Thursday November 8 at 11:30 a.m. at the Assembly Building on Topsail Island.