Swimsuit designer exhibit shows timeless fashion

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The Rose Marie Reid exhibit recently opened in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections area of the Harold B. Lee Library. Rose Marie began her fashion business in 1946, with an emphasis on swimwear. (Natalie Bothwell)
The Rose Marie Reid exhibit recently opened in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections area of the Harold B. Lee Library. Reid began her fashion business in 1946 with an emphasis on swimwear. (Natalie Bothwell)

The leaves are changing and the autumn weather is setting in, but swimsuits are on display in the Lee Library.

“Rose Marie Reid: Glamour By Design” is a new exhibit in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections. The collection is based on famed swimsuit designer and active Latter-day Saint Rose Marie Reid, whose designs were worn by famed movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe.

Reid sold her first design in 1936 when her husband, Jack Reid, asked her to design a more functional swimsuit for him to wear.

She then designed a women’s swimsuit and her husband sold the design to the Canadian department store, Hudson’s Bay. Her first company, Reid’s Holiday Togs, Ltd., was created shortly afterward.

Reid’s suits were renowned for both their functionality and beautiful design, and she was especially popular among the Hollywood crowd.

Movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Sandra Dee wore Reid’s swimsuit designs, and many people bought them seeking the look that was popularized in the beach movies of the time.

Summer Lee, a BYU biology major from Riverside, California, is a student conservation technician who worked on the exhibit. Lee said she was impressed by Reid’s innovations and eye for beauty. “One of her biggest goals was to make everyone feel beautiful in a swimsuit,” Lee said.

A student looks over artifacts at the Rose Marie Reid exhibit in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections area of the Harold B. Lee Library. Rose Marie was an innovator of swim fashion, even being nominated for Sport's Illustrated Designer of the Year in 1956. (Natalie Bothwell)
A student looks over artifacts at the Rose Marie Reid exhibit in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections area of the Harold B. Lee Library. Reid was an innovator of swim fashion, even being nominated for Sport’s Illustrated Designer of the Year in 1956. (Natalie Bothwell)

Reid was distinguished by her commitment to modesty. “I disliked the swimsuits that one could buy. They were immodest. So I started making my own,” Reid said, quoted in the exhibit. She eventually left the swimsuit company that she helped create after continued pressure from the company to design bikinis.

Reid was also well known for her commitment to the gospel. “Tell everyone you meet that you are a Mormon, and then live it to the utmost of your ability,” Reid said in another quote shared in the exhibit.

Kohleen Reeder Jones, the head conservator of rare books and manuscripts for the HBLL Conservations Lab, was a co-curator for the exhibit. Jones said she was most inspired by Reid’s commitment to the church.

“She had a lot of painful experiences in her life, but she was always just rock solid and immovable in her faith,” Jones said.

Reid was involved in the redesign of the temple garments and she donated the proceeds of one of her swimsuit designs toward the construction of the Los Angeles Temple. This swimsuit was nicknamed the “Relief Society Suit.”

John M. Murphy, a curator for 20th century Mormon and western Americana manuscripts for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, has been working to create the exhibit since 2009. Murphy said he hopes young women will come to the exhibit and be inspired by Reid’s commitment to her faith.

“You don’t look at a swimsuit and typically associate it with Mormon culture or history,” Murphy said. “We tend to think of first editions of the Book of Mormon and other physical artifacts of our past. I think a very good and compelling argument could be made that (the Relief Society Suit) is part of our history just as much as any object today.”

The exhibit on the first floor of the library is free and will be open until Spring 2016.

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