When my mother was thirteen, she was so taken by the crochet bikinis that she saw in magazines that my grandmother made her one with pure white wool. She adored it until the moment she went swimming, and at a public pool, no less. Thus ended the short life of my mother’s crochet bikini.
I’ve never had much time for fashion that wasn’t fit for purpose, so this story stopped me from experimenting with crochet myself - until now. And it seems it’s about time, as this humble knit has come a long way, and could be just what’s missing from your holiday wardrobe.
The use of a hooked tool first gave crochet the name ‘shepherd’s knitting’, and the making of a crocheted alternative to lace became a good means of income for many women, especially after Queen Victoria gave it her seal of approval. During the second world war, crocheting tied in with the drive to ‘make do and mend’.
It was in the 60s, though, that crochet really hit its style stride. Suddenly, crochet was cool - especially in minidress form, from Twiggy’s brown-striped tube to Cher’s flare-sleeved shift to Jane Birkin’s strappy sundress in the 1968 film La Piscine. The tanned, coiffured women in Slim Aaron’s sun soaked pictures of California wore crochet a far cry from its affordable roots.
As for the stretch? If you’re crocheting at home, consider the purpose of the garment you’re planning. Cotton and polyester mixes will retain some stretch, but pure cotton is a good choice for a loose-fitting tunic, like this one from brand Eleven Six which uses traditional Andean techniques. It will feel lovely layered over a swimsuit, or a vest and wide-leg trousers (like M Missoni’s zig-zag patterned pair) away from the beach. On that note, Italian fashion house Missoni does brilliantly light-weight, colourful crochet pieces that are a joy to wear and worthy of investment. Not that you need deep pockets: on the high street, Zara’s striped red dress need only be layered over a slip to become a great holiday dress, and Oysho has a good range of crochet cardigans and dresses.
If the crochet already in your wardrobe has pulled, sagged, or fed a family of moths, you’re in luck. The slightly bohemian look of crochet allows for inconsistencies in the weave, and colourful granny squares can be used to bridge any large gaps, carrying on the make do and mend baton.
Bag, £60, Anthropologie
I must admit, I still wouldn’t dare try an entirely crocheted swimsuit, and certainly not an itsy bitsy string bikini. But Kiini’s khaki swimsuit might persuade me that, as was the case in Queen Victoria’s day, there’s nothing chicer than a crochet trim.
Tracking the Trend
Hip not square
Granny squares, which can be made with leftover ends of coloured wool and then tacked together to make almost anything inexpensively, might not sound particularly glamorous. But, as this image of Gianna Ghiron in Positano in 1955 proves, they can be used to great effect.
A-head of the curve
The idea of an A-list actress wearing a beanie hat to the Oscars might seem laughable, but that’s exactly what Ali McGraw did in 1971, with this flowery crocheted cap. It’s certainly a contrast to the semi-sheer, crystal embellished gowns that dominate the red carpet today.
For her AW18 collection, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri looked to the Youth Quake of the late 1960s for inspiration, playing with colourful patchworks and crocheted fabrics alongside placard-slogans and peace-sign knits.