Rose Marie Reid — The Mother of the Modern Swimsuit

Rose Marie Reid — The Mother of the Modern Swimsuit


Do you know who Rose Marie Reid is? You need to.

I recently visited Utah and got to see an exhibit about her life in the BYU library. If you live near BYU you must go see it. If not, you can get the in-depth online experience here. And if you’re in a hurry, I’ve put together a condensed version of her story because it must be shared.

In a nutshell, Rose Marie designed the swimsuit as we know it today. She created a global, multi-million dollar business and completely revolutionized the swimsuit industry. She was a single mother of three, a business owner, a creator, a missionary. Oh and did I mention — a Mormon!

I first heard about Rosemary Reid when I was probably eight or nine years old. Rose Marie’s granddaughters went to church with me, so they arranged to have a fashion show in the church gym and model some of her designs. Even though I was young, I’d worn enough swimsuits in my day to realize these elaborate, glamorous designs were not the same as the cheap neon Speedo contraptions I wore to the pool. What I didn’t realize then was what an incredible woman had designed them.

So, a little timeline to hit the high points.

1906: Rose Marie was born in Alberta, Canada

1935: She married Jack Reid, with whom she had three children

1936: After complaints from her husband about the material and comfort of his swimsuit, she decided to make him a new one using better material. She started a design business called Reid’s Holiday Togs where she designed swimsuits with a lace up design for better fit.

Rose_Marie_Reid_Early_Lace-UP_Suit

From BYU’s exhibit:

“Most swimsuits before the 1940s were made from wool and sagged when wet, so Rose Marie introduced attractive, elasticized luxury fabrics to help swimsuits retain their shape. She was the first to incorporate laces, inner brassieres, tummy-tuck panels, stay-down legs, elastic banding, brief skirts, and foundation garments.”

1942: Her business kept growing, and she introduced the “Skintite” line of suits.

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1946: Because the relationship was troubled and abusive, Rose Marie ended her marriage with Jack and moved to Los Angeles with her three children. That same year, she started Rose Marie Inc. and began designing swimsuits — she had almost instant success, due in part to Rita Hayworth wearing this gold stunner to publicize the movie Gilda that same year.

rita-in-gold

“Rose Marie established a global, multi-million dollar fashion empire. Her swimsuits dominated the American market and were popular across Canada, Western Europe, South America, and Australia. Fashion magazines widely advertised her brand, and she collaborated with some of the most creative advertising agencies in North America.

Her sales strategies and marketing partnerships made the 1950s a wonderful, prosperous time for Rose Marie Reid, Inc. The company’s 1951 gross of $3.5 million increased nearly five fold to $18.1 million by 1960. Combined, her Canadian and U.S. factories increased production between 1952 and 1959 from 1,000 to 10,000 suits per day.”

Here are some of her ads. They make me drool.

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So what made her suits so successful?

For one, the new fabric — I mean, can you imagine going swimming wearing WOOL? But also, Rose Marie was one of the first to make swimsuits in multiple sizes, because (duh) women come in different shapes! She even created this amazing chart titled, “which jewel shape is she?” I prefer it much to that awful fruit scale that who knows who developed.

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In one of my favorite quotes, she said, “A woman looks and feels her best when she is wearing an evening dress. . . . I wanted that same feeling in a bathing suit.” Mission accomplished, Rose Marie.

Her swimsuits were used in the 1959 movie Gidget, as well as California-beach themed films Muscle Beach and Where the Boys Are. Put those in my Netflix queue.

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An ad for Rose Marie Reid’s Juniors line, featuring Gidget

Though she was a working, single mother, Rose Marie taught classes at the University of California in Los Angeles as well as at Brigham Young University. Apparently she taught about topics like dating, fashion, and women in business. Sign me up.

Rose Marie at BYU

Rose Marie at BYU

In one speech to a group of students, she said, “Tell everyone you meet that you are a Mormon, and then live it to the utmost of your ability.” She practiced what she preached in that statement — the exhibit is full of stories of Rose Marie talking openly about her religion with everyone she worked with, organizing events for civic groups and giving presentations to various Christian and Jewish groups.

1951: The church announced it was building a temple in Los Angeles, California, where Rose Marie lived. Some of the women in the local Relief Society contacted her asking for ideas of what they could do in order to fundraise.

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Rose Marie’s ‘Starlight Suit’

1954: Rose Marie designed the “Starlight Suit,” which was hugely popular, retailing at $50, which would come out to $431 today. She suggested the Relief Society help sew the sequins, and went on to donate the profits to the funding of the LA temple.

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Rose Marie in front of the Los Angeles LDS Temple


One of Rose Marie’s most significant contributions to the Mormon church was helping design the temple garment.

In the late 1950s, LDS Church President, David O. McKay, and Relief Society General President, Belle Spafford, asked Rose Marie to create standard patterns, sizes, and styles for the production of the LDS temple garment. Rose Marie considered this the most important Church calling of her life. She believed that it was “a great privilege” to wear the temple garment and considered them “wonderful and beautiful and sacred and precious.” Rose Marie wanted Latter-day Saint women to be comfortable and feel lovely in this sacred clothing.”

I love this woman. I’m so inspired by the way she used her talent to benefit women the world over, and for being so committed and generous to the church she loved. Now can I get all of her swimsuits in my size? I’m an Emerald cut.

56chromspun

 

16 Comments

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  1. 2
    Ashley Pope

    My stake had an activity that focused on her life and had a model there to show us some of her designs. What an incredibly cool woman 🙂 Thankful everyday she thought two piece garments should be a thing.

      • 4
        Rebbie

        Yeah, I couldn’t find a lot of specific information on how she impacted the temple garment, so I’m not quite sure. But if/when I find out who made them two pieces, I’ll have to write a post about them too. We owe them BIG time!

        • 5
          DeAnn Franklin

          Rebbie… my sister in law lived in Plumborough, PA and knew the woman who designed the two piece garments and struggled with the Brethren to obtain approval for the concept. It was quite a process and not an easy one. I have no idea if the lady would like to be contacted about it, but I could ask my sister in law if you like.

          • 6
            Rebbie

            Absolutely!! I would love to speak with her if she’s up for it. Thanks for offering, DeAnn.

  2. 11
    Norrie Brassfield

    I am still thinking about her after visiting the exhibit. Thank you for sharing her story with your followers! She is a great example of using her talents for good.

  3. 12
    Sharon Rasmussen

    I was privileged to attend one of her fashion shows I forget the group that benefited. I was a new young mother then and couldn’t afford her gorgeous suits but did have several before they ended production.

  4. 13
    Marie

    She did invent the two piece. You are right, they did come later. She fought and fought for them and I think even designed them. After she passed away they were made to be two piece. Also, “rose Marie’s granddaughters went to church with me”….you mean my BEST FRIEND’s great grandma was rose Marie Reid. We didn’t just go to church together excuse me! 😉😉. Loved this. Thanks for sharing!

  5. 14
    Paul & Sharon Alden

    RMR’s two daughters are still very much alive and doing good things. One is currently serving a mission with her husband (me) of 56 years and the other is being a wonderful Grandma and Great-Grandma.
    To set the story straight, yes she definitely designed the two piece garments and presented them year after year, to no avail. It wasn’t until shortly after she died that her designs were approved. She had gone straight to the “top” to get them approved. Just like her to do that…..
    She was a beloved mother and mother-in-law.

  6. 16
    Caryl

    I read how Howard W. Hunter was caring for his incapacitated wife during her last years and was the apostle who asked the brethren to make the two-piece garments after experiencing the tremendous inconvenience of helping to change her clothing. Thought I read about it in the Teachings of the Presidents church manual, but can’t find it there. I didn’t know Rose Marie had redesigned the garments and first requested the 2-piece design.
    I happened upon the BYU exhibit in the HBLLibrary Special Collections room and checked out the one copy of her biography written by her daughter, Carole Reid Burr and Roger K. Petersen. I say we petition swimwear companies to bring back her designs. I LOVE the examples you’ve shown here, and happened upon your site when googling Rose Marie’s swimwear. I love your site!
    One other question: Carole’s book mentioned a Rose Marie Reid hybrid rose created for her. I’d love to see it, but can’t find it through googling. Anyone come across it? Thanks for your efforts in the creation/continuation of your site!

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