When Fashion History Happened at Bolton Landing—The Monokini
By Joseph W. Zarzynski
Monday, June 17, 2013
When one thinks of Lake George one might conjure up visions of beautiful blue water, sandy beaches, and bountiful history. Here is a story from half-a-century ago that generates all three of those mental images.
The decade of the 1960s in America was a rebellious era and Lake George was certainly not an exception. At the start of that decade in 1960, a song, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” sung by Brian Hyland, became a huge hit. The bubblegum pop tune was about a shy young woman embarrassed to appear on the beach because of her “itsy bitsy” bikini, that two-piece bathing suit that soon became the norm for female beach attire.
However, by the mid-1960s, Lake George had a more extreme story, a daring woman who went to a Bolton Landing beach wearing only a topless bathing suit.
The beginning of that story actually began 50 years ago in 1963, the year the “monokini” was introduced to American fashion. Rather than a two-piece bikini bathing suit, it was a one-piece topless apparel for females appropriately named–monokini. The shocking garment was essentially a bathing suit bottom with a long thin neck strap that revealed the woman’s bare top.
Rudi Gernreich, an Austrian-born, avant-garde fashion designer, shocked the world with the monokini. Gernreich said his one-piece topless bathing suit was an expression of freedom for women. After all, it was the audacious sixties! When released, the monokini was controversial amongst mainstream America, but was a bit more accepted in some fashion quarters of the world. Ironically, today the monokini describes a popular one-piece bathing suit with straps from bottom-to-top that links a bikini into a one-piece, non-topless suit.
A year after the monokini first appeared, Gernreich’s design hit a Lake George beach. On July 14, 1964 the Amsterdam (NY) Evening Recorder published an Associated Press article entitled “Woman in New Swimsuit Nabbed.” The story began like this: “An alert Bolton Landing policeman was credited with the first sighting on Lake George of a topless bathing suit.” The account, however, did not state whether the brunette woman was clothed in a monokini or simply a bikini bottom.
According to the Associated Press, on July 13, a Bolton Landing policeman ordered a 22-year-old Manhattan woman out of the water as she waded from the beach into Lake George in a red one-piece topless bathing suit. The Manhattanite was whisked from the lake and a blanket was provided to cover her up. The constable then drove the bather to her motel to get more clothing.
The wire service news story reported the young woman said she just wanted “to be fashionable.” Thus, half-a-century ago during the tumultuous 1960s, a small piece of fashion history was made at the “Queen of American Lakes.”
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