Woollen swimwear in the 1930s

PHOTO (C) Beeldtype: My grandmother, her sister and my very young mother wearing woollen swimwear in 1938 and of course Daisy, the Scottish terrier.

Summer is over and our bathing suits can be tucked away. I was thinking about how quickly the modern bathing suits dry. Some even faster than others. I decided to take a look at what my mother and grandparents wore on the beach.

But when I looked at the picture above, I immediately started to laugh. They are wearing woollen bathing suits! Wool! Did they know what happens to wool when it gets wet? A sheep is not equipped for swimming and that is because wool gets heavy (and saggy) !

I guess that back in the 30’s people wore natural fabrics like cotton, wool or silk. When I look in my closet today I see a lot of synthetic fibers. Unfortunately, because I really like the feel of organic fabrics. But synthetics are cheaper and more readily available. And in the case of swimwear: more comfortable.

What bothers me is that I can’t believe people didn’t care in the 30’s about the sagginess of the bathing suits. Did they just cope? Or did it have to be wool, because cotton might reveal too much of the body? So many questions…

Here’s an interesting website that answered my questions about woollen swimwear:

Spoiler alert: the answer was Lastex, yarn covered in rubber. Rubber… can you believe that? I like that we have evolved beyond that 🙂

I really like this bathing suit my grandmother is wearing. Isn’t she a diva? (The photo was not developed well, one side is lighter)

My grandmother wearing a polka dot swim suit in 1938 on the beach, probably The Hague.

I really like the lining of my grandmother’s bathing suit. I am almost certain that she would have said that it actually mader her look fat 😦

My mother and grandmother getting their feet wet in 1938. I do not know what the black thing on the right is… a rope?

My grandfather seems to wear a onepiece swimsuit with open sides:

My mother cuddling with my grandfather on the beach in 1938.

Ski fashion in the late 1930s

Photo: (c) Beeldtype : My grandmother Margarethe de Rooij-Burgers in her ski outfit in Radstädter Tauern, 1937

While browsing through the old family photos I look for things that have changed tremendously through time. Fashion for one. I really like this ladylike ensemble and the cap my grandmother is wearing. It’s hard to make the material out, but my guess is that it is wool. After a little googling I found a blog with advertisements of winter clothing in the 1930s. I was right, ski clothing was mainly wool, or ‘fleecy wool’ as they called it. Nowadays skiers are clad in polyester and nylon, from top to bottom and aren’t nearly as stylish as my grandmother 🙂

Have a look at my grandfather teaching my mother a ski move:

My grandfather teaching my mother the right ski moves.

Note the pants and socks! I think he’s wearing knee-length socks with his pants tucked in and another pair of socks that are folded over the shoes. Quite stylish 🙂 Again all wool. Love the short jacket too!

And here’s a group of my grandparents friends:

ski friends posing in nice weather in Gargellen, 1938, my grandmother standing in the checkered vest.

Note the lady on the left and especially her gaiters covering her shoes. I think she’s wearing pants, but it looks like a skirt. I wonder how warm these woollen garments were. One thing is for sure: a fall in the snow would mean continuing with wet pants :-/ That’s when nylon entered the scene…

Skiing in Austria in uncertain times

(Photo (C) Beeldtype: 1936: Exterior of hotel Fluchthorn in Galtur, Austria, my mother waving at the photographer and my grandmother sitting in a sun chair next to her)

When I was in primary school I was one of the few in my class who went skiing with my family. It was (and still is) quite expensive. While looking at these old photos it surprised met that in 1936 my grandparents were wealthy enough to go skiing in Austria.

I googled the hotel and it is still in business. Alpenresort Fluchthorn it is called nowadays. At the moment of writing this blog they are reconstructing the hotel. They must have done so in the past after 1936, because the wooden balconies are different and I can’t find the half round glass door entrance anywhere on the present day photographs.

My mother and grandmother having breakfast at the hotel Fluchthorn in 1936

Funnily enough, the seating in the breakfastroom is still the same; bench on the window side, chairs on the other side of the tables. On this photo my mother is looking out the window. It could have been snowing. Or she might have seen this dog:

My mother was kind of a dog whisperer. No matter what breed, size or agressiveness, my mother would only have to talk to them and they would ease up.
Dogs of any size would listen to my mum. This photo was probably developed later than the others in this series: there is no deckled edge to this one.


Note the vintage snow goggles. I find them quite horrifying, but they might have been all the fashion back in 1934. And when googling vintage snow goggles, you will find that they are still being made in this fashion.

My mother used to say: ‘Always wear goggles when skiing.’ I hated these things because they always seem to fog up. I had them tied around my arm most of the time. But she always reminded me of her getting snow blindness or photokeratitis. This eye damage resulted in her having to spend many days in a dark room after a skiing holiday. As long as I can remember my mother always had trouble with bright light. She owned all kinds of shades, for any type of weather.

THE YEAR 1936:

My grandmother’s captions do not state in which month these photos were taken. It might have been in februari when the Olympic Wintergames were opened by Hitler in Garmisch Partenkirchen. Fascists are gaining ground throughout Europe in 1936. In Greece the parliament is sent home and dictator Metaxas settles himself as the new head of state. In july the Spanish civil war starts and dictator Franco reigns. On the other side of the Atlantic Franklin Delano Roosevelt fortunately gets elected as president of the United States.

It scares me to compare those times with the world we now live in. I am glad my mother didn’t have to witness what we are going through now.

The old tin bathtub in Blankenheim

PHOTOS (C) Beeldtype : August, 1934 – Old houses at Blankenheim, Eiffel, Germany.

Going through the photo album I come across funny captions (see my last blog) written by my grandmother. These photos made in the 1930s are small and sometimes I need a magnifying glass to check out what is actually in the picture.

What caught my attention this time was the old photo of old houses in the German town of Blankenheim. My grandmother stated where it was and in brackets she wrote ‘Look at the bathtub’. Indeed, when you take a closer look you can see a bathtub standing upright against a wall. My first question: why is it upright? Then: why is it outside? And: What kind of bath is it anyway?

By the looks of it, it is probably a tin bath that had to be filled with hot water by hand. In those days it was not very common to bathe everyday. This bathtub was probably used once a week, since it was a lot of work to heat water and fill it. So someone had to make a fire (hot water was probably not yet readily available in this small town), heat the water (probably pumped up at a well) walk with a bucket of hot water to the tub over and over to fill up the bath. Quite a production. And I guess one had to bathe outside and if it was in that particular spot, everybody could see :-/ . This confronts me with how much I love my daily warm private shower!

On the top left corner a piece of a church tower can be seen. I think the same church is still there now.

On this picture you can see the castle of Blankenheim and its elevation from the town below. The house with the bath is in the lower left corner (compare the chimney):


Click here to look at an arial view of Blankenheim today. You can figure out where the house with the tub used to be: between the castle and the church.

For more information about this town: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blankenheim,_North_Rhine-Westphalia Check out the photo of where the river Ahr has its source!

Click here for more history about bathing.

Happily unaware of what is to come

Photo © Beeldtype : My grandmother and mother posing in front of their car on a trip in Germany in 1934.

This photo was taken on the same trip as pictured in the former blog I posted. My mother is wearing the same dress and having known my grandmother, my mother would have worn a clean dress everyday.

The caption says: ‘175 metres above the Ammer, July 1934’, which means the Ammer river in the Eiffel, Germany. When I first saw this picture, I just found it interesting because of my grandmother’s clothing (I was baffled by her shoes, though. I remember her wearing more elegant designer shoes with high heels).

Then I thought about how priviliged my mother was. There were few cars around in 1934 and my grandfather must have earned quite enough to have been able to buy a car. Let alone go on vacation with it. That must have been pretty special, owning a car AND being able to go on vacation. (I know where I got my travel genes from!)

This is 1934. Hitler is already in place. The night of the long knives took place a few weeks before this picture was taken. At this point my grandparents do not seem bothered by it. It is still a few months before the king of Yugoslavia is murdered and a week or so before Hitler stages his first coup in Austria and assasinates the Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss. (The Austrian army intervened. Germany annexed Austria in 1936).

We live in uncertain times due to the COVID-19 outbreak this year. That, and the worrisome situation in the US makes me wonder about what is to come. I keep thinking about how my grandparents must have experienced their uncertain times. Did they have any idea of the severity of the situation? Did they want to take the trip before it would turn out to be impossible to travel? Or were they just unaware? My mother and grandmother seem happily unaware.

The car is a Hillman Minx 1932. (Thanks @1930s.gent !)



A curious and funny caption

© Beeldtype / Photo of my mother Louise with a German boyfriend in 1934

This photo is too cute. My mother was probably 4 years old (she would have turned 5 in the winter). I wonder, was this a setup by my grandmother, because the boy is wearing a ‘lederhosen’ and hat, which is very photogenic? Or did they actually meet and play together? One thing’s for sure: he is not my father 🙂

The funny thing is the way they ‘hold hands’. When you look closely you see that my mother is holding his wrist, not his hand. That raises a lot of questions… did she not want him to leave? Or was he fumbling with her dress, and she grabbed his hand to stop him? Or was the boy just clumsey and did my mother follow her mothers orders to somehow hold hands? They both look quite shy, but I think they at least liked having their photograph taken. When you take a closer look you see two hands reflecting in the window behind them: the photographer.

My grandmother was good in writing captions. But this is a curious one. She wrote (in Dutch): Lous heeft ”Anschluss” . Or: Lous has a connection. Mind you, ”Anschluss” is a German word and this is 1934, four years before this plain German word got an entirely different meaning. By 1938 this word was the general historical term for the annexation of Austria by Germany.

When I first saw this caption it made me laugh out loud because of history; my Dutch mother annexed a German boy! (The Netherlands annexing Germany… well that could have changed history 🙂 ) Grandma could not have known the funny and serious extra layer her caption got many years later.

A lesson in shadows and lines

(© Beeldtype / Photo: My mother, Louise, at home in 1934 (4 or 5 years old) )

Portrait photography is not my thing and probably never will be. I have photographer friends who are very good at it and I would turn to them immediately if I needed a portrait. Why? Why not do it myself? Maybe because I love a good portrait when I have a connection with the subject.

I have a strong connection to this portrait. Not only because it’s a photo of my very young beautiful mother, but also because the photographer, probably my grandfather, shows so much love for her (and the light) in this portrait. He probably made her look out the window and said funny things to her, making her laugh. I like seeing her this happy.

The shadow is formed by the window frame and I love how it casts a big line on my mother’s chest. Almost as if she is wearing something. There is also a line on her forehead, crossing her eye, that is not distracting. It adds something to the entire composition. There’s still enough light falling on her hair behind her face…a line on her right shoulder… He must have really thought this one out… or maybe it was a happy coincidence and he was just trying things. Anyway, it’s a great lesson in using shadows.

My grandmother wrote next to the photo: ‘our little sunshine’. It’s almost like my mother’s light is bursting through the shadows that are cast on her body. Little did she know about the things that were brewing in Germany and about Adolf Hitler appointing himself as ‘fuehrer for life’. Nor was she aware of all the dictatorships that were on the rise in the world (China, Cuba, Bulgaria, Egypt). Her smile would have made my grandparents very happy in extremely uncertain times.

Through my grandfather’s lens

(© Beeldtype – Photo: My grandfather Marius de Rooij 30 years old, in Galtür Paznauntal, Austria in 1936)

Not too long ago my sister asked me if I would be interested in the old photo albums of my parents. She needed the space and wanted to get rid of them. As a photographer and former picture editor (for whom pictures are sacred) I immediately replied: ”Give them to me!”

The albums have been laying around for some time now, until I recently thought: ”What do I really know about my parents?” My father died when I was 18 and my mother when I was 23. They owned a restaurant and were always busy. I hardly got to know who they were when they were alive. Could I maybe get to know them better by looking at the photographs? Could researching the backstory to these vintage photos bring a little more understanding of what they experienced at a young age?

Flipping through the photographs, more and more questions arose. What was it like, growing up in the 1920s and 30s in Amsterdam? What did they experience? Were they happy? Where were they? Who were they?

I found out that my mother’s father enjoyed photographing very much. For those days in which not so many people could afford a camera, he captured quite a lot. I already had experienced that my mother was an amateur photographer when I was young. It turns out that she was the photographer of some photos of my grandparents (although I am not certain who took the photo of my grandfather (above) Could have been my grandmother). I guess photography runs in the family. Well, at least, that side of the family.

Today I am starting my journey through my parents’ vintage photos to try and find answers to my questions. Who knows what I’ll find? I hope you’ll enjoy this journey with me, or at least, enjoy the vintage photography.

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