With summer ascending before us, I now see the influence of Esther Williams everywhere I look. After all, the sheer existence of today's thriving swimwear industry is largely a credit to her. As I mentioned in the earlier article on her career, she arrived at MGM at a time in history--the early 1940s--when swimwear was not necessarily considered part of our standard wardrobe. It was the midst of World War II, and people had neither time nor a dime to spare. But as Americans emerged from the war and thoughts of leisure began, they all had Esther's glamorous image in the movies to guide them.
Esther was a one-woman testing ground, too...spending hours, days, and weeks in the water and working to determine the best fabrics and fit for women's swimwear. By the time that the 1950s rolled around and the middle class was splashing around in suburbia, Esther was collaborating with swimwear company Cole of California to bring functional and fashionable swimwear to the masses.
There aren't too many designs today that aren't the direct descendants of Esther Williams. Every single one that's worn on the Vanity Fair cover (above) can be traced to her. Two swimsuit shapes in particular became her trademarks--the halter maillot and the simple two-strap tank. As a competitive swimmer who needed to perform in front of the camera for hours on end, Esther was most interested in the functional aspect of her swimsuits. That said, there is no question that Esther wanted to enhance her own natural beauty in the water, and she worked with designers to make her suits the most stylish thing people had ever seen.
Because the glamour and distinct designs behind Esther's swimsuit style have continued to be popular, she started her own line of swimwear twenty years ago. Made in the USA, her suits can currently be bought at the vintage-inspired ModCloth and at Esther's own swim shop. But you need not feel limited...her influence is everywhere. Look through any catalogue or store and you'll find many modern suits that emulate Esther's style. Here are just a few below, starting with a couple that are on my personal wish list. And check out Popina for tons of wonderful and affordable retro swimsuits as well.
Even more swimsuits to come in the next blog straight from the pages of the fashion magazines!