Historical photo of children wearing bathing suits of the 1920s

When my grandmother Jennie was a young girl in the early 1920s, it wasn’t common for young ladies to own a bathing suit or go swimming in a pool. But on hot summer days, she and her female relatives would cool off at the beach by Canarsie, Brooklyn. They all wore old clothes and — holding hands with each other — they’d take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.

When I was growing up, we always wore bathing suits when we played in the kiddie pool or went to the beach. But even when my family got a membership at a nearby pool, Mom never bought us high-quality swimwear. Kids outgrow their clothing quickly, so Mom would have considered an expensive bathing suit a waste of money.

Still, a well-cared-for swimsuit can last several seasons. I remember Mom wearing the same blue-and-red one-piece suit for at least two or three summers.

Since I rarely go swimming, I don’t own a bathing suit. Instead, my solution is to purchase athletic gear that can double as a swimsuit, like tank tops and gym shorts. These pieces get plenty of wear as casual summer clothing and they’re great for a trip to the beach or a dip in the pool. I love how these separates serve multiple functions and they last me for years.

If I were a more frequent swimmer, I’d consider a good quality bathing suit in a classic style. And I’d take good care of it to make sure it lasted several seasons. When it wore out, I’d reuse the fabric, perhaps to make a headband or ponytail ties. I might even turn an old one-piece suit into a tote bag by cutting across at the leg openings, sewing up the bottom, and using the existing straps as my handle.

But, like Grandma, I don’t have any special gear for swimming. And I really don’t need it; my shorts and tank tops work just fine.

Feature image: Provincial Archives of Alberta, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.