Last month I visited the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society – Surfer’s Paradise, to view the Paula Stafford collection, kindly arranged by Nadia and Madeleine at The Fashion Archives.
Australia and the swimsuit are a perfect fit, and in part that’s thanks to Gold Coast fashion designer Paula Stafford.
Stafford began designing swimwear in the 1940s.
She introduced the bikini to the Gold Coast, and she invented the world’s first reversible bikini and backless bikini in 1953 (1).
Stafford’s early bikinis and garments were made from unconventional materials – tea towels, old curtains, fabric remnants, even carpet!
But generally she used woven cottons, not the stretch knits of today’s swimwear (2).
Many of her bikinis were reversible, so you had four bikinis for the price of one.
Her bikinis were outrageous, and throughout the 1950s and 60s, beach inspectors began patrolling the beaches, demanding that women cover up (3).
By the 1960s you could have a bikini made to measure in the morning and pick it up that afternoon.
Stafford had a team of 65 seamstresses in her workshop. All her workers and sales assistants wore bikinis too (4).
Eventually, even the beach inspectors were converted, with the notorious Aub Laidlaw (5), giving the nod of approval to Stafford’s daring styles in a 1967 visit to the Gold Coast (6).
By the 1970s, Stafford had an international following and frequently showed at overseas trade fairs (7).
She was a forerunner in helping brand the Gold Coast as a tourist destination.
And she put fun, colour, and beach into Australian fashion, where they cheerfully remain to this day.
You can view her famous bikinis at the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society – Surfer’s Paradise. The museum address is 8 Elliott St, Surfer’s Paradise, and it’s open the first Sunday of every month. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children. View the museum’s Facebook page here.References / further reading: 1. Schmidt, Christine. 2010 p. 156. “Against the Grain: Australia and the Swimsuit.” In Australian Fashion Unstitched : The Last 60 Years, edited by Bonnie English and Liliana Pomazan, 153 – 173. Port Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press. 2. Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society – Surfers Paradise display (GCHHS-SP). 3. Schmidt. 2010. p. 156. 4. At least according to ‘Everybody’s’ Magazine they did, Everybody’s, May 24, 1967, p. 11(Collection of GCHHS-SP). 5. Time Out Sydney. 2007. “Aub Laidlaw”. Accessed December 1 2013. 6. Gold Coast Sun, June 16 1967, p. 3 (Collection of GCHHS-SP). 7. Maynard, Margaret. 2000. Out of Line : Australian Women and Style. Sydney: UNSW Press. p. 156. 8. Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society – Surfers Paradise. Visiting hours and map here.