Monday, April 28, 2014

Focus On: Playsuits

By Sherri from sewbettyanddot

Romper? Sunsuit? Playsuit? No matter what name you give it, this fun and sassy garment has been in fashion, in one form or another, since the 1930s. The form they take has changed, of course, but the idea is the same: a garment--or a multi-piece outfit--that enables the wearer to move easily, often with a strategic amount of skin exposed. Sometimes these were one piece, sometimes a pair of shorts with a top and/or jacket and/or removable skirt. (We'll explore jumpsuits, those with full legs, in another post.)

I can't really find anything definitive online that makes a clear demarcation between the words "playsuit," "sunsuit," or "romper," although in my own mind "romper" indicates a one-piece garment while "sunsuit" I have mostly seen associated with children's garments. So "playsuit" seems to cover the gamut: one-piece garments, flirty full shorts with halter tops, one-shoulder, swimsuit-styled pieces with a button-on, button-off skirt, and more. All of them are lovely!

One-piece, easily removed garments first appeared for babies and toddlers around the turn of the twentieth century--interestingly, they were first intended for little boys. From the Victorian period until the 1930s, children generally dressed as little adults, so these garments allowed freedom of movement for little ones as they played outdoors; they were generally made from cotton, too, so they were easily laundered in a period when laundry was often an all-day affair (ugh).

As women's clothing became less restrictive in the 1920s--good-bye, corsets!--and with the advent of more leisure time activities such as tennis and golf becoming popular, these not-quite-swimsuits appeared, made popular by Hollywood starlets beginning in the 1930s. Think Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, or any number of publicity shots of ingenues (click here to see a panoply of lovely ladies in divine playsuits).

(Images are all from magazines in my own collection.)

These playsuits are generally made out of the same materials as other clothing--cotton, rayon, etc. It's interesting to note that swimsuits (referring now to the garments we more or less recognize as such, which began to appear in the 1930s for the general public) were made from ribbed knitted wool, pioneered by the Portland Knitting Company; this company evolved into Jantzen, named after one of its founders. Wool, however, is quite heavy when saturated--sometimes these suits weighed more than 8 pounds when wet. Man-made fibers were rapidly developed during the 1940s that allowed for lighter-weight, stretchier fabric--but that's for another post!

Technically, some of the patterns shown below MIGHT be swimsuits, but the boundaries definitely blur...whether one piece, two, with skirt or without, one shoulder or halter...they are all lovely!

Now, let's look at some playsuit/romper/sunsuit goodness from members of the Pattern Patter team, shall we?

(As always, clicking on the image will enlarge it.)

Top row, left to right: Advance 8313: PinkPolkaDotButton
Advance 5850: 

And some cutie-pie patterns to make playsuits for the little ones! Note the Butterick Betsey Johnson sunsuit, top row, second from left, and note that Butterick 2322 (fourth row, second from left), has an identical sunsuit pattern for a child's doll. Cute!

Top row, left to right: Advance 4927: patternshop
Second row: McCall 5561: anne8865

And finally, I leave you with this: 

Perhaps there is a reason there is a dearth of men's "playsuits"? (There actually were cabana outfits--matching shirts and swim trunks...but one-piece suits are scarce...)

Which playsuit/romper/sunsuit would YOU don for a day in the sun? Tell us in the comments!


  1. I adore that first photo! You've found so many darling sunsuit patterns. Great post!

  2. Fun post!! My favorites are the playsuits from the 1940s.

  3. What a well-written and researched post, Sherri! I love the look of playsuits, but with my many-years-post-baby body, I wouldn't do it. Some of those outfits are so lovely, I can't imagine getting them wet!
    And a man should never, EVER be seen in a one piece playsuit.........*shudder*


  4. Wow! Thanks for all the hard work and research for this blog it!

  5. Great post, really enjoyed it!

  6. Such a great read! Love the groovy guys at the end :)

  7. Very informative and well researched post. The 40s suits are so Lana Turner in the POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE - less is more in some cases. Thank you for the article.

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  9. So many variations! And not just for kids. Thanks for putting this post together, and researching such an interesting article on a little known piece of the fashion past.

  10. I love the different swimsuit of different ages. Good job Sherri!

  11. Great article and examples! Thanks for featuring some designs I hadn't seen before. McCall 3645 with the bubble bloomers is so wonderful!

  12. Such variety and the guy's one just makes me smile. Kind of reminds me of the 6 Million Dollar man show in the 70s - not that I want to age myself with that reference :)

  13. Great informative post! The patterns you found are adorable, wish I could wear some of them!

  14. Great Information, thank you for putting this together.

  15. Great post Sherri! If I had to pick one pattern, I would choose the McCall's 3645. I love the flirty bloomer pants and wrap skirt paired with the midriff top. The children's rompers are so cute, and I have to say I like do like the guy's suit!