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The Origin Of The Vintage Playsuit - 40s/50s Swimwear

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Have you ever seen a vintage playsuit? Today we'll explore this popular style choice for women in the 40s and 50s!

Vintage playsuit.
updated on:
February 7, 2024

My vintage Catalina playsuit is one of my most prized possessions! It's such a unique piece and I'm so lucky to have one in my collection! It was gifted to me by my mom for Christmas about 2 years ago.

Playsuits were a style of active/swimwear worn by women of the 40s/50s. The style continued to be present in the 60s and even the 70s. These styles were the first renditions of what we might call a romper today.

Today, we'll explore the origins of the playsuit and I'll share with you some cool features of the one I have in my collection!

This post is all about vintage playsuit.

vintage playsuit

What are vintage playsuits?

Vintage playsuits are one-piece ensembles that were typically worn in the 40s/50s as activewear or swimwear. They often had detachable elements such as a skirt or removable straps.

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What year did playsuits become popular?

Early versions of the playsuit emerged as early as the 1910s. The style was most popular from the 40s-60s, with playsuit styles evolving throughout the 70s and 80s.

woman in playsuit
1952, Wikimedia Commons

What is the history of the playsuit?

Prior to the 1940s, beachwear was typically more involved, consisting of multiple pieces (capes, shirts, skirts). After WWII in the 1940s, swimwear became much more simplified. Bright colors became popular and being tan became a status symbol, indicating your access to the sun. Playsuits made of cotton were worn beachside or for outdoors casual activities, enabling the wearer to expose their skin to the sun.

group of women in playsuits
1938, Wikimedia Commons

By the 1950s, post-war Americans were itching to travel to foreign lands, so their swimwear needed to be light enough to travel. Body and curve-hugging styles reemerged, especially paired with bright lipstick.

The late 50s and early 60s saw multiple versions of the same playsuit, some with bloomers, skirts, etc.

catalina playsuit

What is the difference between a playsuit and a jumpsuit?

Both playsuits and jumpsuits are one-piece garments, but typically a playsuit has shorts vs pants. Playsuits are intended to be worn in a casual setting whereas a jumpsuit can be casual or worn more formally.

vintage romper

What is the origin of the romper?

The romper was originally used as a garment for children during playtime as it enabled a wide range of movement. When women started to adopt the style as leisurewear in the 40s and 50s, advertisers referred to the garment as a playsuit, designed to be worn by women on their casual outings and for swimming. The use of the word romper reemerged in the 70s and 80s when the garments stopped being worn as swimwear.

Rompers are still popular today and are used as casual wear or even sleepwear.

If you like this post you may enjoy this post: Insane EBay Hacks Guaranteed To Help You Find Rare Vintage Clothing (For Less!)

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What brands were popular for playsuits?

Two very large players in the playsuit space were Catalina and Jantzen. Both companies still exist today and sell modern swimwear.

50s playsuit

My vintage playsuit

As I mentioned earlier, I was gifted my playsuit for Christmas! My mom knows how much I love vintage fashion, so she scoured the internet to find one for me. I believe she got it on eBay, so if you're interested in finding one for yourself I would recommend starting there!

If you type in "vintage catalina playsuit" in the search bar, you're going to get a lot of great options!

My playsuit is this really pretty green and blue gingham pattern. I also love the fabric; I believe it's a textured cotton. If you know the correct name for the fabric, I would love to know! I feel like it's on the tip of my tongue but after searching for the correct name I can't seem to find it.

You can see from the photos that this playsuit has an accentuated waist and a foldover trim on the bodice. The back is smocked and the straps on the back are adjustable in length with buttons. There are also metal hook closures on the back to keep the zipper from falling down.

40s playsuit

There is elastic around the legs and boning in the top. I believe the previous owners resewed on the straps in the front because it looks hand stitched.

I'm not entirely sure exactly what year my playsuit is from. You can see the old Catalina tag in the inside of the playsuit. My guess is 50s but I'm not sure exactly how to tell for certain. Again, if you have any thoughts, let me know!

jantzen playsuit

I've actually worn my playsuit out before - it just looks like the cutest romper ever. Here's a video of me trying it on:


Have you ever heard of a vintage playsuit? I would love to see yours if you have one. I really want this style to come back. All of my favorite starlets wore them (think Ann Margret in Viva Las Vegas) and I just always thought they looked so glamorous!

This post was all about vintage style playsuit.

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