October 8, 2014

Rose Marie Reid Makes Swimming Modestly Fashionable

Last weekend our family flew to Utah for BYU's Parent's weekend.  We have three children and one daughter in law attending Brigham Young University so we can truly claim to be uber parents!  One of the things we did while there was tour a special collection at the BYU library.  Among old books, I was surprised to see a women's swimsuit in the collection.  I learned that it was a relic of the 1950's and was made by a very interesting Mormon woman named Rose Marie Reid.

Rose Marie learned to sew expertly at a really young age as she grew up in Utah.  She worked at the family grocery store which helped her learn entrepreneurial skills.  With her marriage in 1922 she moved to Canada.  Her husband coached swimmers and complained to her that his swimsuit was heavy and bothered him.  Like most swimsuits, his was made of wool!  Thick, absorbent and heavy when wet, like a sweater!  Men and women wore one piece sleeveless tank tops sewn to boxers for swimming-- and they were shapeless, ugly and heavy when wet.  With a different idea, Rose Marie took an old twill jacket and cut it up, making shorts for him that laced up on the sides for a good fit.  He loved them!

He asked her to make another men's suit and two women's suits for his competitive swimmers.  They modeled them for a local department store, which ordered several dozen of each to sell.  Rose Marie was flabbergasted.  She didn't want to start a business, just make a few suits.  She asked local women to sew them and filled the orders, and she was in business as 'Reid Holiday Togs.'  She refined her swimsuits to fit all body types and flattered all women.  This was such a difference from the shapeless tank shorts that women loved them.  Demand continued to outstrip what she could supply and Rose Marie kept expanding.  When she made more money than her husband, who was still coaching swimmers, the marriage faltered.  After the divorce, she moved to California with her three kids.  The demand for her swimsuits was the greatest in Los Angeles.  She renamed the business 'Rose Marie Reid' and got more creative in her designs.  Her biggest boosts to business came when Hollywood movie stars wore her swimsuits and spoke of them glowingly. 

The 1950's were Rose Marie's biggest years in business.  In 1951 Life Magazine praised her designs and the most revolutionary suit.  She was named Woman of the Year in 1955 by the Los Angeles times and Designer of the Year by Sports Illustrated and the American Sportswear Designer award.  Even though she was a single mom, she churned out design after design and seamstresses sewed like mad to keep up with orders.  At one point, they were making 10,000 swimsuits a day!  Other companies, seeing the new trends Rose Marie was starting, copied her designs.  One company owner bragged that they all copied her designs because if they didn't, they would be out of business.  Brazenly, one even named one of their swimsuits 'Rose Marie.'  This just prompted Rose Marie to be more creative with her next design.

Rose Marie wanted to help when the Los Angeles temple was being built.  In those days, members paid money into building funds to build churches and temples.  Rose Marie designed a specific swimsuit for the purpose of fundraising for the temple.  It was white with sequins sewn in patterns all over it.  She made the suits up and had the sequins sewn on by Relief Society sisters, then sold with all profits going toward the temple fund.  She raised $100,000 for the fund this way (which would be about a million dollars today.)  THIS is the swimsuit I saw at the BYU library.  Awesome!
In the 1960's, bikinis became popular.  Rose Marie built her company on the principles of the Gospel and refused to design immodest designs.  Her company had non-members on the board and they insisted that she follow the trends.  Rose Marie refused and left the company that she founded so many years before.  With her departure, the company became just like any other and slowly failed. 
Rose Marie held onto her values although she could have compromised in other ways as well.  Once she was offered $250,000 to appear on the back cover of Life Magazine.  The catch-- she would have to say she smoked Camel cigarettes and appear with a lit cigarette in her hand.  She refused, although she could have used the money at the time.   

She also shared the gospel with all of her associates, serving as a set-apart missionary for over 20 years.  She helped write pamphlets for the church that targeted the Jewish community, as she was good friends with several Jews and knew how to relate the gospel to them.  And she donated lots of money over the years to BYU. 

I admire Rose Marie because she stood firm to her values regardless of the pressure she felt in her business and social life.  In spite of her hardships, she valued her family and did her best with her situations.  And I love her designs, which help women be modest and yet fashionable.  Her designs are making a comeback today as modest values return.  She set a great example for me.

For more information, see:
Ainsworth, April and Michelle Brisendine; "Rose Marie Reid: Vingate Designer Bios," www.vintagevixen.blogspot.com, August 27, 2011.

Peterson, Roger K and Carole Reid Burr.  "A Genius for Beauty:  Rose Marie Reid."  Mormons and Popular Culture.  ed. James Michael Hunter.  pp. 213-228.  

Smith, Julie M.  "Rose Marie Reid."  Times and Seasons, 12 September 2006.  www.timesandseasons.org.

Walford, Jonathan.  "Canadian Fashion Connections-- Rose Marie Reid."  Jonathan Walford's Blog.  December 3, 2010.  http://kickshawproductions.com/blog/

Wikipedia.com, "Rose Marie Reid."

Photo courtesy of moviestarmakover.com

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