Violet Armstrong's Life Saving Club Swimsuit

Contributed by: Manly Art Gallery & Museum

Violet Armstrong's Swimming costume for MLSC Swimsuit closure buttonholes Violet (left) with another swimmer from Tasmania at a competition showing Violet wearing two swimming costumes with presumably the silk one worn underneath Studio photograph of Violet Armstrong Violet in NSW Swimming Costume (not silk) Label
  • Australian dress register ID:

    430
  • Owner:

    Manly Art Gallery & Museum
  • Date range:

    1930 - 1945
  • Place of origin:

    England
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This one piece costume belonged to Violet Smith (nee Armstrong) who during the 1920s and 1930s established herself as a champion athlete in swimming, hockey, golf, tennis, athletics and riding in Sydney. During her life Violet had a lifelong association with the Manly area and in particular the Manly Life Saving Club, where this swimsuit originates.

This swimming costume is an original Manly Life Saving Club silk racing swimsuit from the 1930s. Manly Life Saving Club was established after a law was overturned that had prevented swimming during the daylight hours in 1903. Manly Life Saving Club has since laid claims as the first life saving club in Australia, and possibly the world along with other prominent Sydney beaches like Bronte and Bondi.

This costume is also an example of a 1930s women's competitve swimming costume. Similar costumes were worn by competitive Australian swimmers such as Claire Dennis at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles as it was the officially approved costume for Australian female swimmers. This brand of costume in particular, 'Sills', is quite significant as it was an English made swimwear brand that was made popular and sold exclusively in Australia by Mark Foy's Ltd, a department store that was located in Sydney's Liverpool Street from 1909 until 1980.

Author: Jackie Dunn, Sarah Bendall, 01/04/2013.

Description

This one piece blue swimsuit is made from silk by the English manufacturer 'Sills' and sold through Sydney based department store Mark Foy's Ltd. The design comprises of a boy leg coverage with a racer back and two buttons at the left shoulder as fastenings. The strap that holds these buttons, on the wearers left have suffered sever damage and tearing at some point, yet remain in tact due to the stability of the seam edge. The original buttons also remain in place.

Over the entire piece there is evidence of fading and wear, particularly in the crotch as a result of constant contact through leg movement. Other discolouration may be a result of salt water stains or sun damage. Although made of silk, the garment appears relatively opaque, considering it's extremely thin and soft to the touch.

The Manly Life Saving Club label in a crescent moon shape has been attached at the wearers left side of the chest. It has been stitched slightly off centre using a simple whip stitch by hand. The logo 'MLSC' has been machine stitched prior to use on this swimsuit, and was a later edition to this store bought costume.

History and Provenance

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

This swimming costume belonged to Violet Smith (nee Armstrong) and was given to the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in 1994 when Violet moved into a nursing home. During the 1920s and 1930s Violet established herself as a champion athlete in swimming, hockey, golf, tennis, athletics and riding.

Details of Armstrong's various wins can be found in copies of the Sydney Morning Herald from the period. It appears that Violet swam competively during the late 1920s and early 1930s for the Sydney 'Telephone Ladies' Club' were she was described as "the club champion' in a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article from 1931. 

In the latter years of the 1930s, as this swimming costume suggests, Violet must have started racing for the Manly Life Saving Club.

During her life Violet had a lifelong association with the Manly area and in particular the Manly Life Saving Club. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This swimming costume is an original Manly Life Saving Club silk racing swimsuit from the 1930s and relates directly to the club's history.

Manly Life Saving Club was established after a law was overturned that had prevented swimming during the daylight hours in 1903. The founding president, James Bonner was also the current Mayor of Manly, and his grandson Tony Bonner continues the Manly tradition as the Director of Beach Sports today.

Manly Life Saving Club has since laid claims as the first life saving club in Australia, and possibly the world along with other prominent Sydney beaches like Bronte and Bondi.

The club was initially set up as a result of an increased number of drownings, as the traditional bathers were inexperienced at delving into deeper waters. Groups of experienced volunteers were required to assist swimmers who were unaware of how to fight dangerous surf patterns like rips and swells. As a result the life saving club as we know it today was established in order to maintain public safety.

Where did this information come from?

Photographs and Information of Violet Armstrong courtesy of Gwen Leonard.

Manly Ladie's Carnival, The Sydney Morning Herald (5 December 1927)

Women's State Championship, The Sydney Morning Herald (31 January 1928)

New Zealand Girls Win: N.S.W. Championships, The Sydney Morning Herald (13 February 1928)

Telphone Ladies Club, The Sydney Morning Herald (6 April 1931)

Record Times: New South Wales Championships, The Sydney Morning Herald (4 January 1935)

  1. Place of origin:

    England

  2. Owned by:

    Violet Armstrong

  3. Worn by:

    Violet Armstrong

  4. Occasion(s):

    Sportswear/Occupation at Manly Life Saving Club

  5. Place:

    Worn in Manly, New South Wales

  6. Designed by:

    Sills

  7. Made for:

    Manly Life Saving Club

Trimmings / Decoration

Manly Life Saving Club, or MLSC logo has been hand stitched onto the top left side of the chest using a basic whip stitch.

Fibre / Weave

This costume is made from silk with the addition of a cotton based label for the MLSC.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Mark Foy's Ltd was a department store located in Sydney's Liverpool Street from 1909 by brothers Francis and Mark Foy who named the store after their father Mark Senior. Established in Sydney's bustling CBD and boasting Australia's first escalator, Mark Foy's Ltd went on to open stores in Eastwood and Burwood in NSW, continuing trading until they went into receivership in 1980.

Mark Foy also founded Australia's oldest Open Boat Sailing Club, the Sydney Flying Squadron in 1891.

The department store held exclusive rights for the sale of 'Sills' swimming costumes, an English made swimwear manufacturer made popular in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald on November 5, 1906 advertised that the local beaches open until 10pm encouraging a refreshing 'splash in the breakers', but to enjoy such activity one must first adopt a regulation costume, available of course, at Foy's. 'Sills' were recognised bathing garments worn by prominent swimmers during the period, according to the advertisement. As opaque yet lightweight costumes, 'Sills' ensured 'perfect freedom of kick, and will not tear at crutch', which is always reassuring for sportsmen and women.

The original advertisement can be viewed at:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1301&dat=19061105&id=8XgQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=05EDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5628,171733

Label

"SILLS"

SWIMMING COSTUMES

SOLD ONLY BY

MARK FOYS LTD.

SYDNEY

MADE IN ENGLAND

Alterations

The addition of the label has been sewn on by hand after the costume was purchased by the owner.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

The fastening consists of two button holes at the top left shoulder. The strap holding the fastening is damaged with a large tear on either side. The buttons remain in tact, yet they are almost entirely dependent on the folded seam which provides added support to the delicate silk.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Measurements

suit
Girth
Chest 740 mm
Hip 880 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 480 mm
Back neck to hem 640 mm
Convert to inches

Circumference of leg hole is 510mm

Circumference of arm hole is 620mm

Length across the racer back is 210mm

Additional material

Other related objects

Violet also donated a Speedo to the museums collection that she wore during the same period.

Condition

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Discolouration
  2. Fading
  3. Stained
  4. Torn
  5. Water damage
  6. Worn

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