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Beachwear from your great-grandma’s day in Cold Spring Harbor

A mid-20th-century bathing suit at Paper Doll Vintage

A mid-20th-century bathing suit at Paper Doll Vintage Boutique in Sayville. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Leisurely living was once a luxury — especially for working women. That changed as America became more industrialized.

In the 19th century, outdoor activities and organized sports were recognized to have health and social benefits, says Terry Lister-Blitman, executive director of the Long Island Maritime Museum. Salt water and sea breezes of the beach were considered particularly beneficial, according to Lister-Blitman, who will co-host the program, “The Art of Surf Bathing.” The program traces the origins of summer pastimes. The Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor will host this lecture and walking tour on Saturday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

“This program explores the late 19th and early 20th century fascination with what, at that time, was an unknown sport — swimming — or as it was then known, surf bathing,” Lister-Blitman says.

The two-hour event is being held in honor of the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement in New York.


The lecture was inspired by an original exhibit titled “In the Good Old Summertime,” which opened in July 2010 at the Long Island Maritime Museum. The program includes vintage swimsuits (circa 1920) that women wore to the shore. Archival photos from the 1880s through the 1920s will highlight how women experienced the beach and swimming in the ocean.

With shifting views on leisure and women’s rights came modifications to ladies’ fashion. “Clothing and bathing suits, in particular, were affected by the women’s suffrage movement because the style changes allowed women more freedom of movement,” Lister-Blitman says.


The second hour of the program consists of a walking tour through Main Street’s historic district in Cold Spring Harbor led by whaling museum interpreter Joan Lowenthal.

Participants will see historic homes and learn about the lives of local whaling families and of Rosalie Gardiner Jones (1883-1978), an outspoken resident of Cold Spring Harbor who petitioned for women’s suffrage.

“We hope people realize just how far women have come,” Lister-Blitman says. “Today, women are just as active, strong and sports-minded as men.”

‘The Art of Surf Bathing’

WHEN | WHERE Saturday, 12:30-2:30 p.m., the Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor

INFO 631-367-3418,

ADMISSION $12 (reservations required)


Rosie’s Vintage

11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, 101 Woodbury Rd., Huntington

INFO 631-549-9100

When it comes to vintage attire, swimwear “has probably changed the most,” says Lisa Leonardi, a sales associate at Rosie’s Vintage.

The shop’s inventory includes about a dozen swimwear pieces from the 1950s and ’60s: high-cut bikinis with harder cups, skirted one-piece swimsuits, as well as terry cloth and other cover-ups.

Swimwear of that time featured thicker straps and banding at the bust and was far less revealing than today’s garments. Pompom-adorned cover-ups were characteristic of these times, Leonardi says. It was also common for women of that time to wear swim beach jackets as cover-ups.

At Rosie’s Vintage, the swim pieces range in price from $15 to $50.

Paper Doll Vintage Boutique

333 New York Ave., Huntington (631-923-3200) and

23 Main St., Sayville

INFO (631-319-1919)

Paper Doll Vintage Boutique sells true vintage and reproduction swimwear that is made to look like period pieces.

The stores carry 1950s and ’60s swimsuits, including one-pieces with ruching and high-cut bikinis that cost $48.99 to $74.99. Reproduced swimwear is popular because it accommodates contemporary sizes, says owner Dominique Maciejka.

“People have become taller and bustier than what the average size might’ve been back then,” Maciejka says.

The boutiques also have a handful of men’s swim trunks made of a stretchy knit material that are even rarer than female finds, according to the store’s owner. That’s because “men tend to wear things out,” Maciejka says. Early incarnations of men’s swimwear appeared similar to underwear briefs. The current inventory has swim trunks that cost $45 each.

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