Swimming caps were a popular fashion accessory in the 1950s and 1960s – worn to complement women's swimsuits and protect permanent wave hairstyles that would be otherwise ruined upon entering the water.
Early swimming caps were made of fabrics such as cotton and silk, but by the mid-20th century, they were primarily made of rubber. Though the 1940s saw swimming caps become scarce as rubber was needed for war materials, by the 1950s decorated caps had come into vogue. From practical to playful, eccentric styles became the norm, with milliners often designing brightly coloured swimming caps that were appliqued with flowers or ribbons, or moulded into creative shapes.
1958 advertisement for Kleinert's swim caps with their 'Secret Magic Sava-Wave Inner Rim'. Image sourced via The Vintage Traveller
In addition to being dazzling, swimming caps had a practical use for 'protecting a woman's wave'. As a 1958 Kleinert's advertisement promoted, 'Cap your curls in these beauties and never worry your head about waves! Hair stays dry for sure with Kleinert's Secret Magic Sava-Wave Inner Rim.' Similarly, as American brand Howland declared, 'Diving date ... dancing date ... Don't take your hair in swimming!'
Advertisement for United States brand Howland 'hair dry swim caps', ca. 1950s. Image sourced via Glamour Splash
While there are many swimming caps to admire in our collection, we've selected our top five – which let me tell you, was no easy task. Enjoy!
1. Costume jewels
Playtex rubber swimming cap, ca. 1950s, made in Spain. ANMM Collection 00046087
2. Pretty in Pink
Women's Capella swimming cap, ca. 1950s, made in Spain. ANMM Collection 00003655
3. Amazing Appliqué
Women's Brit Marine rubber swimming cap, ca 1950s. ANMM Collection 00039527
4. Mellow yellow
Women's yellow rubber swimming cap, ca 1960s. ANMM Collection 00006709
5. Kooky Kleinert's
Women's Kleinert's swimming cap, ca 1950–60s, made in Spain. ANMM Collection 00003039
Which one is your favourite? Would you consider wearing a swimming cap like this today? Browse the swimming caps that didn't make the cut via our Collections page.
Header image: Advertising poster titled 'Australia', ca. 1930s. ANMM Collection 00015667