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My wardrobe malfunction

When I was ten, my mother remarried and quit her job so she could stay home and have more children and be a homemaker. She and her husband bought a one-roomed schoolhouse in the country, and he set about to renovate it into a three-story, five-bedroom house. She became a full-fledged, pregnant, pickle-making, jam-cooking, clothes-sewing, stay-at-home mother.

During this phase of her life, she learned how to sew and she set up a little sewing room in a loft above the kitchen. It had a picket fence instead of a wall. I think of this period of her life as the Ubiquitous Crimpolene Years, because practically everything she sewed – and therefore practically everything I wore – was made of crimpolene. I had crimpolene dresses, crimpolene pants, crimpolene housecoats, crimpolene shorts, crimpolene shirts, crimpolene everything. I even had a pink crimpolene hot pants outfit.

I believe the appeal of crimpolene was that it was cheap, easy to sew, and didn’t require ironing. Not to date myself or anything, but this no-ironing thing? It was revolutionary at the time.

When I was twelve and my sister was thirteen, my mother deviated from the crimplolene craze by making each of us a terry cloth bikini. We were thrilled to have something to wear that wasn’t crimpolene. She then took us swimming at the pier in Arnprior, where hundreds of other kids were diving and splashing and swimming jubilantly on that hot July day.

Debbie and I jumped together off the pier into the water. Within seconds it became obvious that something was going horrifyingly wrong with my new bikini! It was becoming huge and heavy and it was escaping from my body! The bottoms were sinking down my legs and the top was expanding in all directions away from me. I looked around frantically for Debbie and saw her struggling with her own bikini; I saw my own horror mirrored in her face.

I was trying to tread water and grab both parts of the bikini before they could escape. But they were like anchors! I was being dragged down to the river bottom by my bikini bottom! And remember, I was twelve years old – I would rather drown than emerge naked from the river in front of hundreds of people.

Somehow I did not drown, nor did I emerge naked from the river in front of hundreds of people. I emerged trying to hold my bikini parts around my body in the most non-revealing way I could. The top sagged way down low, so one arm was trying to hold some of it across my chest. The bottoms hung down almost to my ankles, and the other hand clutched a big saggy soggy handful of it around my hips. It probably weighed more than I did.

Debbie and I – both mortified and traumatized and fighting back tears of terror and humiliation – hurried as best we could across the beach to where our mother lay on her nice dry terry cloth towel.

My mom took one look at us and burst out laughing. She laughed helplessly and uncontrollably for a very long time. (Debbie and I did not join in.)

While it certainly has many fine uses, ultra-absorbent terry cloth might not be the best fabric with which to make bikinis.


22 comments to My wardrobe malfunction

  • What’s crimpolene?

  • Pychic Librarian

    I was luckier – But I sympathize.

    My mom crocheted me a very cute little yellow cotton bikini when I was about 11.

    A few runs under the sprinkler, and I quickly realized that it could not be worn for swimming.

    Unlike you, I was lucky that I was alone in my back yard.

    The bikini is long gone, but I still have the pattern if anyone is interested.

  • susie

    My mom did not sew us a thing, but I would lose my nylon bikini bottom everytime I went water sking. I would keep an extra stash of bottoms on the boat.

  • donna p

    when I was in elementary school, we were not allowed to wear pants… but all of a sudden when I went to junior high, pants were in. But not jeans, so my mom made me two pairs of pull up (elastic waisted) crimpoline pants, one was bright purple and the other was lime green. Oh my, I was so proud of them. I couldn’t believe we were allowed to where pants to school. That was early 70’s, and my mom made EVERYTHING I wore, including crimpoline dresses, jumpers and blouses… ugh Thanks for bringing that memory back, and also the gratitude I feel that my mom never came up with the Terry Cloth bathing suit idea!!! I did have to wear a navy blue jumper she made that was way TOO short so she made a pair of “Bloomers” to go under them and called them “Hot Pants” and I was in grade 7. That was painful.

  • Robin! Crimpolene is (was) the thin textured 100% synthetic polyester fabric of the 70s.

    Psychic Librarian – ha ha! A crocheted bathing suit! I’m so glad you weren’t in public for its inaugural soaking.

    Susie, you must have been on friendlier terms with the people on the boat than I was with the people on the beach.

    Donna, I laughed out loud reading about your bloomers. I have a bloomers story too. (Fortunately it’s about both my sisters, and somehow I was miraculously spared the embarrassment of this one. I’ll blog it someday when I can borrow the photograph.) But you reminded me of how crimpolene was not just about the fabric; it was also about elastic waistbands and puffed sleeves and hideous 70s colour schemes. My mother made my sister two crimpolene pant suits one time – one pink, the other purple – and my sister took them apart and sewed them together so there was a pink leg and a purple leg, etc.

  • Nancy

    Thanks, Zoom – I laughed ’til I cried, and I started when you said your Mum made you terry cloth bikinis.

    I remember crimpolene, my Mum sewed with it too; but I think I was only landed with one dress. The colours were always (to my recollection) pastel and were sort of wall-papery in that they had some creme or white in the design too.

    My theory is that crimpolene was found to be a carcinogen. It disappeared suddenly and it is NOWHERE to be seen now (not that I have actually looked for it). As fashions generally cycle back around it would have turned up again if there wasn’t a very good reason. Certainly simple terminal ugliness doesn’t stop fabrics and styles from reappearing eventually.

  • Good story. What’s ironing? 😉

  • oma

    Oh, thank you, Zoom. I laughed until I cried again. In the 1980’s Kerry received a crimpolene quilt made by Ruby Armstrong of all our leftover seventies crimpolene. Kerry and I are going to give it to Arrow along with all the stories that go along with it. By the way, I made myself a pink crimpolene hot pants outfit too … so I didn’t just inflict it on my children.

  • Marg

    One reassuring thing about crimpolene – it is one of the few (hopefully)forgettable fashions of the past that men also wore and in colours just as hideous as those of the female gender – in fact, I think crimpolene leisure suits were even worse. The carginogen theory is a good one, another possibility is that between the 60s and 70s we used up the ugly fashion quota for two entire generations. Our children who do not know what crimpolene is, should thank us.

  • Gae Fenske

    Oh dear, even out here in Australia we remember that awful stuff – I even had a ‘suit’ of the wishy-washiest baby blue. I had one advantage, I was able to wear the skirt right up to the last month of my first pregnancy – and he turned out a ten pounder !!

    Try swimming in a commercial (Jantzen) WOOLLEN swim suit. There is a reason Australia has produced some mighty swimming talent – we are genetically programmed to cope with things like woollen swim suits.

    Ironing – against my religion. I do HAVE an iron, but my first iron lasted over 20 years – I only use it when dress making, pressing seams and so on. In 42 years of marriage I am only just ‘breaking in’ my third iron.

    Greetings to the magnificent Duncan, from the ancient moggie Vegemite.

    Gae, in Callala Bay on the south coast of NSW

  • sheila

    Crimpolene must have had a different name in the US. I was a teenager in the seventies and I made lots of clothes with whatever fabric I could afford with my babysitting earnings.There were polyesters of various textures and weights and they all smelled awful when you ironed them or you got warm and they were so uncomfortable! Rash city. I started to insist on cotton and natural fibers a little before that attitude became commonplace. Some of the things I wore in those days were perhaps a bit odd, but I was curiously brave for a shy girl. I lived in a cocoon of my ideas and dreams. Sigh!

  • You’re not alone… I can remember being at the Rouge River beach at least a couple of times when I was a kid and seeing kids running for towels with malfunctions just like that.

    I had a ten month polyester phase sometime around 1992 when I started buying shirts from a store in Ottawa which imported them from the Middle East. Very colourful. Their biggest design flaw was the material around the buttons would curl inwards after awhile leaving a strip of Me hanging out.


  • Heather

    Dear god. It’s all coming back to me. Hot pink crimpolene knickers with shiny gold buttons. The perfect outfit for a 13-year old introvert. Hideously topped off with a vest and a frilly white blouse.

  • Nancy – I think you might be onto something with that carcinogenic theory. (On the other hand, my siblings and I would be dead by now if crimpolene were a carcinogen…)

    Saskboy – that’s the spirit! Personally I don’t see anything wrong with a few wrinkles here and there. If something’s TOO wrinkled, I’ll rewash it and try to take it out of the dryer sooner this time.

    Oma – you might have inflicted crimpolene hot pants on yourself, but you never made yourself a terry cloth bikini, did you?

    Marg – the crimpolene leisure suit! With platform shoes! It’s truly astonishing what people will wear in the name of fashion.

    Gae – a woolen bathing suit? Really? As for the iron, I respect your stand. I myself have one too, and it sits beside the pile of ironing that has been sitting beside the iron for the past two years. I’m willing to wait as long as it takes for the ironing to iron itself. The glorious Dogcat Duncan, by the way, sends his very best upside down greetings to the ancient moggie Vegemite.

    Sheila – not only did crimpolene not breathe, it melted at quite low temperatures.

    Gabriel – I don’t know if I feel better or worse that there were other mortified children running around on the beaches. But thank you for the crimpolene illustration!

  • Oh and Heather – yes, gold buttons, frills, puffed sleeves, elastic waistbands, shiny knee high boots. The problem with fashion is nobody has any idea whether they look good or not. All they know is whether they look fashionable or not, and even that’s a bit hit and miss.

  • oma

    No, I didn’t make myself a terry cloth bikini, but I did have a crocheted string bikini that excited the golden agers at Opa’s Florida condo. I should have tested it under a garden hose before going out in public. Opa suggested that I change bathing suits for fear I would cause heart attacks and strokes.

  • Deb

    Remember the time Oma washed the orange fibreglass curtains with our underwear? I was bleeding through my clothes from scratching so much…fashion, laundry…figured it was all here.

  • Crimpolene was what I was trying to remember when I was reminiscing about Phentex and polyester things the other day. Thank you for reminding me.

    This is fun: when you Google “Crimpolene”, your new entry above is the 10th hit!

  • Ha! At Wikipedia, when you enter “crimpolene”, there is no dedicated entry but there is this:

  • Ah yes crimpolene and phentex! There was a whole lotta DIY culture misses in the 70’s. I like to think the DIY culture today has more taste but then I found a dress covered in lurid ejaculating penises (penii?) on Etsy and decided that bad taste and polyester fabrics know no single generation!

  • I just giggle-snorted in front of my 6th period class. They’re way too young to understand crimpolene and the boys deliberately wear droopy, sagging drawers. I think the humor would be lost on them. But they did think that their teacher snorting was funny =:>)

  • Gae Fenske

    The ancient moggie – Vegemite – named for her blacky brown (or browny black) mid length coat, landed on our front doorstep as an (estimated) 8 week old abandoned kit, in January 1987, so she was born sometime in mid November 1986. For heavens sakes, both our children were still living at home at the time!!
    She has been part of this household for half our married life.
    Wonderful personality, calmly confident, manages dogs with one paw tied behind her back, now on a demand feeding schedule that sometimes starts at 4 am. I suggest you do nopt allow Duncan to read that last remark, he might get ideas. Veg sleeps wherever she wants – mostly on her blankie in the space between DH’s pillow and mine.

    Gae, in Callala Bay