Canadian Fashion Connections – Rose Marie Reid

(Originally blogged November 21, 2008)

Yesterday I introduced what will become a regular blog column on Movie Costume Reviews. Today I want to introduce another regular blog column – Canadian Fashion Connections. Here I will find interesting tidbits that are sometimes profound and often obscure, but always fashionably Canadian!

Two piece bathing suit with totemic designs labelled 'The Canadiana Swimsuit - A Rose Marie Reid Original' c. mid 1940s

Because of a lucky find at a local antique store on Sunday the illustration for this article has inspired the first Canadian Fashion Connection — bathing suit designer Rose Marie Reid.

Rose Marie Yancey was born into a Mormon family in Cardston, Alberta in 1906. Her first marriage brought her to Vancouver, British Columbia but that union did not last. After her divorce she took swimming lessons and fell in love with her swimming instructor Jack Reid, who became her second husband in 1935.

Bathing suits in the mid 1930s were made of wool and got heavy and saggy when wet. Rose Marie cut a pair of swimming trunks for her new husband from an old duck (cotton) coat and put laces up the sides for a snug fit. Jack convinced Rose Marie to design a woman’s version and also convinced buyers from the Hudson Bay Company department store to look at samples and place orders. Sixteen dozen orders later and Reid’s Holiday Togs Ltd. was born. Reid quickly became known for her well-fitted, comfortable, flattering bathing suit designs but just when her real success began to take off in 1946 her marriage to Jack Reid ended.

As early as 1938 Rose Marie Reid had been trying to break into the American market. The war stagnated any international expansion but in 1946 she began to look for a niche in the U.S. swimsuit market that was being dominated by Jantzen, Catalina, Cole, and Mabs. A buyer at Lord and Taylor in New York was impressed with her line and convinced other buyers to see her show in California where Rose Marie wowed them with her collection. The highlight of the show was an extravagant metallic gold suit bought by Rita Hayworth – the ‘IT’ girl of 1946, and the first of many pinup models (including Marilyn Monroe) to choose Reid bathing suits for their flattering fits.

In 1951, LIFE magazine praised Reid’s hourglass design as the year’s most revolutionary suit. In that same year Reid’s attention turned exclusively towards the U.S. as the headquarters were moved to Los Angeles. The Canadian side of the business was closed in October 1952. Rose Marie Reid of California became the world’s largest manufacturer of ladies’ swimwear from 1954 to 1959, with her suits selling around the world in forty-nine countries.

Rose Marie Reid believed in flattering the female figure by creating bathing suits with support and structure but her Mormon background wouldn’t let her accept the baring of the belly button in bikinis. In the end it was the adoption of the bikini that spelled Reid’s demise. In 1962 Reid sold out her share of the company and stopped designing bathing suits.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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3 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connections – Rose Marie Reid

  1. emma carrico says:

    I have a “Reid’s Holiday Togs” play-suit. I got it in a thrift store and it had 1960’s on it but it is clearly older. I thought late 30’s early 40’s, now I know for sure! That bathing suit above is amazing. Is it in a museum?

    Thanks for the history!
    Emma

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Emma;
      THe suit is part of the founder’s collection of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. We are opening in a new gallery this summer and although the bathing suit isn’t planned to be on show right now, we do have a ‘bathing beauties’ exhibition in the works… nothing definite yet!

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