My sister says
the problem with today's swimsuits is that "they always snag in the
butt." The chlorine in my Jacuzzi eats mine. A swimsuit is—next to the
toothbrush—the single most forgettable item to pack. There was, in fact, a
Holiday Inn in Topeka. Kans., that sold disposable swimsuits from a vending
machine at poolside.
reasons, American women bought more than 42 million swimsuits last year—some
$900 million worth. I suspect that something more than snags, chlorine or
travel-emergency shopping is at work here.
The real truth is
that each summer, as hope springs eternal, women approach racks of swimsuits
with the tiny little hope that there is one, hanging there special-like, that
will call softly, "I can make you look like Elle Macpherson."
We are the women
of the '90s—toned, tanned, affluent tofu-eaters who believe that much exercise
and a teeny bit of Lycra can lead us to beach perfection.
It was not always
this way. There was a time when a swimsuit could become a sort of trusted
family friend. I know just such a suit. At the moment it is sleeping in a
dresser drawer in Bartlett, Ill. But when it comes out this summer, my Aunt
Virginia's jade-green, size-36, all-nylon Jantzen will be 40 years old.
memory of the green swimsuit was the day it solved the fish-bait crisis with
It was 1959.
Brigitte Bardot was popularizing the bikini at Saint-Tropez. Cheryl Tiegs was
headed for seventh grade. Christie Brinkley was a Malibu toddler. And I was a
10-year-old who stood, fishing rod in hand, by a pond in southern Wisconsin,
out of worms. The mud turtles had nibbled them all away. I'd had my sights set
on catching a batch of bluegills, which, when secured in a bucket on the floor
of our DeSoto, would make the two-hour trek back to my family's farm in
northern Illinois. There they would live happily in a watering tank. But no
bait, no bluegills.
To the rescue
came, as she has for several decades, my Aunt Virginia.
sister Virginia was our symbol of summer fun: the team captain, the hand that
fed, our deus ex ma-china. A pretty woman (I always thought she looked a lot
like Susan Hay-ward), she had been swept off her feet by my darkly handsome
Uncle Mike at a carnival in 1937 when, as he tells it, he took dead aim with a
baseball and knocked five milk bottles off a shelf to win a teddy bear for her.
She remembers that he won the bear playing bingo, but none of this is
important. What is important is that at 71, Aunt Virginia has been married to
Uncle Mike, a cement contractor, for 49 years. They have three children, 10
grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She has raised ponies, raccoons
and a crow. Through all of my memory, she has been a saint. And through all of
my memory, she has had the same swimsuit.
Old Green is a
one-piece, very decent suit—the sort that Donna Reed or Harriet Nelson might
have worn. It is made of heavy cloth, smartly gathered so as not to reveal
lumps and bumps. It has no true skirt, but its low-cut legs are very