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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.