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The Spruce Girls: Ladies wearing spruce veneer bathing suits in 1929

Boban Docevski

Grays Harbor’s lavish past begins centuries before Europeans set foot in the unexplored New World and established the first settlements. Indigenous peoples, including Quinault, Humptulips, Wynoochee, and Chehalis Indian tribes have been living in harmony with nature in the area of Grays Harbor for quite a long time.

However, what best defines Grays Harbor’s history is its close connection with the surrounding vast, dense wood which has become a symbol of Grays Harbor County and one of the main reasons for its economic growth and development of the several lumber towns in the region.

Grays Harbor County was, and still is, famous for its wood-products industry. Lumber has always been an integral part of cities such as Aberdeen and Hoquiam, whose economic development is mostly based on the wood industry. Surrounded by thousands of wooded acres, during the first quarter of the 20th century, Grays Harbor County became known as the biggest lumber-producing and lumber-shipping region in the world.

Two “Spruce Girls” standing on the beach wearing spruce veneer bathing suits, probably near Hoquiam, Washington. Author: University of Washinton/Flickr

Timber comes in many shapes and sizes here in Grays Harbor. From huge logs to tiny planks, from thick wooden beams to thin spruce veneer. These fine sheets are usually used as a decorative finish on furniture. Apparently, somebody back in 1929 thought that wood veneer sheets could be used as a bathing suit material!

“Spruce Girls” on beach wearing spruce wood veneer bathing suits during “Wood Week” to promote products of the Grays Harbor lumber industry, Hoquiam, Washington. Author: University of Washinton/Flickr

Swimming in deep water has proved to be quite a challenge for many people and as we all know not everyone feels comfortable being in open bodies of water in the first place. Overcoming the fear of swimming is not an easy task and this is why people came up with numerous inventions that could assist those less skilled at swimming. However, one must admit that some of these inventions, including the barrel-like wooden bathing suits that popped up towards the end of the 1920’s, look rather peculiar and unpractical as seen from this perspective.

Three “Spruce Girls” wearing wood veneer bathing suits sitting under an umbrella and holding wooden boards shaped like feet, Hoquiam, Washington. Author: University of Washinton/Flickr

It doesn’t sound practical, but that didn’t stop people from the Grays Harbor Lumber industry to start an advertising campaign featuring the “Spruce Girls.” The main goal of the campaign was to promote the products of the wood industry and to make the whole region more popular. The images shown here were taken during Grays Harbor “wood week” event, in the summer of 1929.

Five “Spruce Girls” wearing spruce veneer bathing suits standing on railway car, possibly Washington State. Author: University of Washinton/Flickr

As mentioned above, the 1920’s were an era that gave various inventions when it comes to making swimming safer and easier and these wooden bathing suits were just one of those inventions. During this decade, people in Germany came up with a similar invention: they wrapped themselves in bicycle tires for the same effect.

Three “Spruce Girls” wearing wood veneer bathing suits holding an umbrella and wooden boards shaped like feet, Hoquiam, Washington. Author: University of Washinton/Flickr

Spruce veneer bathing suits were described as simple, cheap, and easy to make, yet fashionable and modern. In a way, they were promoting the DIY (do it yourself) and recycling method of creating things. In one of the promotional videos, a girl is explaining how her father completed building a house and he had some leftover veneer. She used that veneer to make her own bathing suit.

As written in a 1930 Popular Science magazine article, the suits were quite trendy and durable:

“They are the latest novelty for use on the bathing beaches. Fashioned of thin spruce, they are said to be practical as costumes and also are sufficiently buoyant to encourage a timid swimmer to take a plunge. So far, none of them has warped or cracked.”

Four “Spruce Girls” wearing wood veneer bathing suits standing in the surf, Washington State. Author: University of Washinton/Flickr

As you might have guessed, this swimwear fashion trend that occurred in Washington, United States, was short-lived and it didn’t become popular across the globe.

Read another story from us: The bathing suit: From woolen bloomers covering women head to toe all the way to four triangles of nothing

The girls in the pictures look happy and satisfied with their flimsy wooden suits, but only they know if they were really comfortable. The question that comes to mind is: where these spruce veneer bating suits also useful as life vests?

Boban Docevski

Boban Docevski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News