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A Modest Enterprise: Selling Historic Bathing Suits

Ocean City's Coastal Postal Design digs into the past to find a hot new product.

While bathing suits seem to cover less and less skin each year,  is beginning to show what bathing suits were like in the day — when men had to wear a shirt, and ladies wore bloomers.

The shop offers a glimpse of history and introduces a new item popular for 2012: framed bathing suits from the 1920s to the 1950s. Each suit is authentic, not a reproduction. The shops gets the suits from auctions, antique stores and various sellers.

"I'm a collector," said Barb Colombo, owner of Coastal Postal. "I love anything old with history. I started with postcards and moved on to much more."

To make one of the arrangements, Colombo and her husband work together by making a shadow box frame, putting fabric or paper in the background, and attaching the suit with thread, making it easy to take out of the frame.

These pieces range in price from $150 to $550 at the Ocean City shop, while some online sellers ask as much as $1,500 for something similar.

One of the reasons these suits are so popular is the demand to have a piece of history. With shows like "American Pickers" and "Pawn Stars," more and more people are beginning to collect and sell.

Some of the suits that are featured at Coastal Postal are big name brands like Jantzen and Rose Marie Reid. Jantzen includes the diving girl as its logo stitched into every suit, making it one of the longest-lived apparel icons. Rose Marie Reid was credited with making Marilyn Monroe look flattering in her popular one-piece white bathing suit.

Other suits at the shop really show how times have changed in a century. In early 1900s, ladies had to wear bloomers with their suits. An Edwardian suit in excellent condition is displayed at the shop, and is made out of wool, making it weigh up to 20 lbs when wet.

A man's suit from the early 1900s is framed and for sale — it includes both shirt and long pants with a belt at the waist. Up until the 1930s, men had to cover up their chests. Another men's suit in the shop includes a removable top for when men would visit a beach that allowed them to be shirtless. 

A very unique piece of history in the shop is a paper Dipster suit. 

"If you went to the beach and forgot your bathing suit you could purchase a paper suit and at the end of the day it could be thrown out. This one was never worn and includes original packaging," Colombo said as she held up an example.

Upstairs, Colombo has put together a set of three red wool Bradley bathing suits she got from an auction. The suits were found in a cedar chest and are the mother, father and child suits of one family. A collection like this in excellent condition could go for as much as $3,000, according to Colombo, but she says she is selling the collection for $1,500, framed with original Bradley advertising. 

In Colombo's personal collection, she owns a Travelo child's suit with original sizing and price tags, which sold for $2 in the 1920s.

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1127 West Avenue 
609-399-1257
barbc1127@gmail.com

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