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. 

Advertisement for Kleinert's swimming caps
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 US Howland swimming caps
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

Decorated swimming cap from the 1950s

Decorative swimming cap from the 1950s

 

 

2. Pretty in Pink

Women's Capella swimming cap, ca. 1950s, made in Spain. ANMM Collection 00003655

 

Pink swimming cap from the 1950s

Pink swimming cap from the 1950s

3. Amazing Appliqué

Women's rubber swimming cap

Women's Brit Marine rubber swimming cap, ca 1950s. ANMM Collection 00039527

 

4. Mellow yellow

Women's yellow rubber swimming cap

Women's yellow rubber swimming cap, ca 1960s. ANMM Collection 00006709

5. Kooky Kleinert's

Women's Kleinert's swimming cap

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 Collectionspage.

Header image: Advertising poster titled 'Australia', ca. 1930s. ANMM Collection 00015667

 
 

Laura Signorelli

Laura Signorelli is the Digital Publications Producer at the Australian National Maritime Museum.