Mina Wylie's Swimming Costume

Contributed by: Randwick District and Historical Society

 Mina Wylie, Coogee, 1913, PXE 1028. State Library of NSW Mina Wylie's Swimsuit - Full View Mina Wylie's Swimsuit -front detail Swimsuit - Rear Detail - Button Detail - Construction Detail - Leg Detail - repair Detail - repair Detail - label Discolouration Discolouration Patch repair in Gusset Gusset Repair Holes around shoulder strap Label Coogee Beach and Wylie's Baths, PXE1028, State Library of NSW  Mina Wylie (R) and 3 female swimmers, PXE1028, State Library of NSW Portrait of Mina Wylie, PXE 1028, State Library of NSW
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Object information

Significance statement

This navy silk swimming costume was worn by Wilhemina (Mina) Wylie. One of the earliest Australian female swimmers to compete at an international level, notably winning a Silver Medal at the 1912 Stockhholm Olympic Games (100m Freestyle) in addition to winning 115 State and National Swimming Titles and holding world records in freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke. Though often overshadowed by fellow swimmer Fanny Durack, Wylie was nevertheless a successful sportswoman in her own right. Wylie and Durack's representation of Australia at the Olympic Games is also evidence of the growing acceptance of women in competitive sports in the early 20th century. Despite intial objections against the two women swmimming in mixed-envrinoments (male and female spectators), public outcry and a successful fundraising campaign convinced the NSW Amateur Swimming Association to reverse its initial policy.

The garment itself is historically signficant because of its construction and design; a one-piece costume made from a lightweight silk, it has no sleeves, with the legs extending only to the mid-thigh. In contrast, the majority of swimsuits (c. 1910) were constructed from heavy woven woollen fabrics, were knee-length with full skirts, sleeves and worn with stockings, bathing shoes and caps to cover the wearer's hair. Such cumbersome designs in the cause of preserving modesty made swimming difficult for many women, competitive swimming impossible. Though design of Wylie's swimsuit was accepted among the atheletic swimming community, it would be another decade before these design innovations permeated down to leisure swimmers.

The provenance of the garment is well-documented - having been purchased by Mina Wylie, it remained in her possession until its donation to the Randwick District Historical Society. This, combined with its considerable age, marks this garment as particularly rare and valuable, which only serves to enhance its historical signficance.

Author: Amy Butterfield, 15 July 2014.

Description

Swimming costume constructed from navy silk. Short legs, no sleeves. Small repairs to the inside of the gusset, rendered in purple fabric. Second tear on the right shoulder. 

History and Provenance

Mina Wylie was the daughter of Henry Wylie, Competitive Swimmer and founder of Wylie's Baths in Coogee, New South Wales.

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Wilhemina (Mina) Wylie

  3. Worn by:

    Mina Wylie

  4. Occasion(s):

    Swimsuit worn for competition, including 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

  5. Place:

    Locations worn, include: Wylie's Baths, Coogee, N.S.W; Olympic Swimming Course, Stockholm Harbour, Sweden.

Fibre / Weave

Navy silk, very fine weave.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Main body of the garment is machine sewn , buttons appear to have been hand sewn, as well as the repair stitches.

Label

'SILLS/Swimming Costume/Sold Only By/Mark Foys's Ltd/Sydney/Made in England'

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

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Two buttons on the left shoulder strap.

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

Measurements

Swimsuit
Girth
Neck 540 mm
Chest 700 mm
Waist 620 mm
Hip 670 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 726 mm
Back neck to hem 850 mm
Inside leg 100 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 45 mm
Cross back 240 mm
Underarm to underarm 365 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

Costume was worn by Mina Wylie during competition swimming, rather than for leisure bathing - this would explain the use of silk, being lighter and producing less water resistance in the water compared to wool, which was more commonly used in swimsuits of the period.

Condition

Storage of the swimsuit in acidic paper has resulted in discolouration aournd the crotch area, which is starting to fade to white.

Evidence of repairs

Several repairs: a patch (purple fabric) has been sewn inside the suit, attached just above the gusset. Another small tear is located to the right of the neck.

Mould damage

Mould damage evident on the back and around the neck of the swimsuit, resulting in discolouration.

State

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

Damage

  1. Brittle
  2. Discolouration
  3. Fading
  4. Holes
  5. Stained
  6. Stretched
  7. Torn
  8. Mould stains

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