A hand-knit Esther Williams: Fashion and Glamour at the Beach, 1945-1956

Ripley, Julie (2014) A hand-knit Esther Williams: Fashion and Glamour at the Beach, 1945-1956. In: The Look Of Austerity, 11-12 September 2015, Museum of London.

[thumbnail of Conference paper] Text (Conference paper)
A Hand Knit Esther Williams_ Fashion and Glamour at the Beach 1945 to 1956.docx - Accepted Version

Download (499kB)

Abstract / Summary

Although fabric rationing was slow to lift in the UK, demand for glamour in the postwar period surged. Dior's New Look, desirable to many, unaffordable to most and unpatriotic to some, was by no means the only opportunity to be had for British women to indulge in feminine garments unfit for the factory or the farm. Home made swimwear was cheap, required minimal textiles and could be easily constructed by women who had spent much of the previous decade making do and mending.

Coupled with a postwar return to family beach holidays, the emergent trend for up-to-the-minute swimwear can be viewed through the lens of home sewing and knitting patterns, many of which were available free in women's magazines. Echoing the styles popularised by Hollywood stars, whose vacations in exotic locations were staple elements of escapist entertainment often featuring in the same magazines, these patterns offered British women the opportunity to emulate their idols' looks on their own holidays. The swimsuit shot of Hollywood and British movie stars was gaining popularity at this time, only partly because of the opportunity it afforded to reveal a more substantial amount of skin than evening wear. This kind of shot cashed in on the popularity of water-based movies starring former professional and Olympic swimmers like Esther Williams, which employed newly developed underwater filming techniques and technicolor, and additionally provided travelogue style location shots in a period when international travel was becoming a widespread aspiration.

This paper aims to investigate the ingenuity of British women in the period before affordable mass produced swimwear became freely available. Drawing on women's magazines, home dressmaking and knitting patterns, swimwear advertising and film publicity and promotion, the paper will investigate the relationship between the desire to embrace the sexualised femininity so keenly promoted by the patriarchal hegemony and the powerful, athletic femininity that women's war work had developed. Because it is at the beach, the lido and the public pool, the liminal spaces where boundaries between physical effort and leisure are blurred and rules concerning decency are relaxed, where this relationship can be clearly seen.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Fashion & Textiles > Fashion
Fashion & Textiles > Fashion > Fashion Design
Fashion & Textiles
History > UK
Courses by Department: The Fashion & Textiles Institute > Textile Design
Depositing User: Julie Ripley
Date Deposited: 08 May 2017 10:52
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2023 13:39
URI: https://repository.falmouth.ac.uk/id/eprint/2411


View Item View Item (login required)