Always Wear a One-Piece Bathing Suit

Another humorous or not-so humorous memory of growing up in Plymouth.

My mother, in addition to being just plain smart about lots of things, was also very handy. She had painted all the rooms in the house, replaced panes of glass, and could do a rewiring job if necessary. She could hook rugs and her cooking was exceptional. The one thing she’d never mastered was sewing. Memmere (her mother) was a whiz with the needle and made her grandchildren’s clothes for years, which is probably why Mom had never bothered to learn.

One summer, she got it in her head to make me a bathing suit. I think she figured a bathing suit would be an easy sewing project on which to start. It was a cotton knit affair, which she made because I’d grown up and out rather quickly in the past year, and my old suits had become dangerously revealing. What Mom didn’t know, but what I knew acutely, is that with the development of breasts, I’d become hideously self-conscious.

One of the things I could do well was swim fast. While I knew the technique of all the stokes, thanks to endless hours of swim lessons, I had an advantage being taller and stronger than all my teammates on the Eel River Beach Club team. I could power my way to the end of the pool faster than anyone in my age group.

At one particular swim meet with another club, I lined up at the deep end of the pool for the start of a freestyle race, proudly sporting the newly constructed two piece bathing suit. Many of the kids at the pool wore two piece suits at that time, even for meets, but what I realized, as I stepped to the line, was the suit had not been tested for its swim-worthiness, let alone its ability to stay in place during a racing dive.

At the sound of the gun, I hit the water in a flat, extended position (in those days you did not do an extended dolphin kick underwater, which might have saved me) and began to swim mightily, only to discover that I had nothing around my chest. But something was indeed wrapped around my waist. I continued to swim for a few strokes, then stopped in the middle of the course and pulled my top up, while all the spectators looked on. Instant, grinding mortification.

I never wore that bathing suit again. My mom, who had been at the swim meet, never said a word. As I grew older and swam more seriously, the beauty of a one piece suit became clear, and to this day I’m a firm believer in the value of having your suit in one piece.

Another memory morsel: some Olympic training coaches visited our team once and talked to me and another teammate – a tiny pixie with blonde hair for whom the water just seemed to part – about whether we’d be interested in a serious training camp. I can’t remember what happened after that; they may have talked to our parents, who nixed the idea. But it’s nice to think about, all these decades later.

My cousin Peter and I swimming at the Eel River Beach Club



24 thoughts on “Always Wear a One-Piece Bathing Suit”

  1. Good story, Noelle! I was rather large as a young girl (well, and on and off for a lot of my life) and although my mother worked at a company that manufactured bras and swimming suits for a while, her attempts at adapting a bikini for me never went too well. I’ve always stuck to one pieces as well, and they are definitely the think if you want to do any serious swimming (although I imagine nowadays there are better options). Oh, I remember once helping out at an operation, in the summer, and wearing a strapless bra… Well, I could feel it slipping down as the operation progressed, and I evidently couldn’t remove my hands from the operating field, so I worried it might become visible at some point. Thankfully, the big green surgical coat we wore hid pretty much everything…

  2. I grew up swimming, too, Noelle. So much fun. We had a one-piece-suit rule in our competition regulations, but when just hanging out at the pool I wore a pink two piece. One time I forgot I was wearing a two-piece and dove off the high dive. I had to pause at the bottom of the diving well and put my bottoms back on!😂

  3. I really wanted a two-piece bathing suit when I was a kid, but my mother strictly forbade it. By the time I’d reached the age where I could make my own decisions, the desire had gone away, so I’ve never had a two-piece suit. Probably just as well. 🙂

  4. Such a mortifying story! Looking back I’m sure it brings laughter, but I can just imagine how you embarrassed you must have felt at the time.
    How cool that Olympic training coaches spied you out! I’ve never been a great swimmer, but I can float on a raft while reading a book with the best of them! 😆

    P.S., love the old timey photo!

    1. That is an old photo, MC, probably taken in the 1950s. I was a pretty good swimmer but never got a chance to work with it in high school or college. But the habit of doing laps has stuck with me and I use it to think about where my books are going! Floating on a raft while reading a book – maybe drink in hand? – sounds perfect!

  5. I feel for you. Mum made most of my clothes (the girls ones, the rest were hand-me-downs from the boys!) but never a swim suit. I only remember two, both before I grew breasts, and boy did they grow fast. They didn’t actually sell bras for those sizes in those days. It was awful to go round busting out all over! (Oh, I’ve just remembered the suit I really liked when I was boobier).

    Sad you didnt get a chance to try out at the training camp. I mean – it might not have been for you… but it would have been nice to have tried 🙂

  6. Ooh that was some suit, Noelle! I agree one piece suits are the safest!
    I had an incident where I was swimming or rather trying to jump over waves at our beach which was really rough and was doing well until I crashed under one strong and huge wave that threw me around until I finally found my way up again but minus the top of my one piece suit. My male cousin was beside me and got an eyeful! It took a while to get over the embarrassment and the ribbing from him. Thanks for sharing your story! You could have been an Olympian!

    1. Nah, I doubt I would have been an Oylmpian – I had too many other interests for that kinds of dedication. But I loved your story. Did you find the top???

  7. I was on the swim team also, from the ages of 7 to 17 (when I quit because I was slooowwww – beautiful stroke but slooooow). Anyway, on our swim team we always wore one-piece suits, and you give a perfect answer to why. My heart sank for you when I read this. I can imagine how mortified you were. I wore a two-piece when I was just having fun in the pool, and when I was about 16 I still liked to swim like a dolphin and jump up and down down. One time I jumped up too fast and my top fell down. My boss at the time (I was a lifeguard by then and taught swimming lessons) was standing there and I saw the expression on his eyes. Whoooops!! I never said a thing, and neither did he, but like you, I never wore that suit again.

    1. What a cute story! I think any girl with real boobs is at risk in a two piece suit. The competition I had that summer in the races was stick thin and wore a two piece suit – she she had nothing to worry about.

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