Ensemble Chronicles: Remembering Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ Swimsuit

I was 12 when I first saw Suddenly, Last Summer. It was long before I knew I’d love Tennessee Williams for the rest of my life, and about the same time my mother told me that wearing bras were, for me anyway, going to be a fact of my life. At 12, I was already a C-cup.

My mother had always loved Elizabeth Taylor, or the “girl with the violet” eyes – eyes my mother is still coveting to this day. I grew up being told from the beginning that there really was no beauty like that of Ms. Taylor, she was, in my mother’s mind: “exquisite.” And even when her figure was long gone and her health started to fail her, to my mother, she would always be young, beautiful and arguing with the equally gorgeous Paul Newman in a sticky, sultry room on some Mississippi estate.

It would be years before I really understood all the undertones of Suddenly, Last Summer – the way they talked around Sebastian’s homosexuality, the reasons behind his death, the true meaning of lobotomy, and, of course, the psychological demise of Taylor’s character, Catharine Holly.

No, to me at that time, as I pulled at the uncomfortable bra strap that I would eventually have to get used to, all that mattered was the way Liz looked in that white bathing suit as she seductively sat in the water. Actually, considering how she looked back then, everything she did could be deemed seductive. The neckline of the one-piece swooped low enough to reveal perfect cleavage, and the contrast between her bronzed skin and white swim suit was striking. Seeing her not only helped me to appreciate that my own figure that was rapidly going from a little girl’s to woman’s, but it was to start a life-long obsession with that white swimsuit.

The summer right before I turned 13, I tried on my first white one-piece bathing suit, and immediately horrified, I removed it. But I did not give up my quest. Every year that followed, I tried again. I have searched online, vintage stores; I have tried cuts and designers that I can’t afford, and always come up empty-handed. Even at the summer’s end, with my skin just as tan as Liz’s in that movie, I still can’t recapture that look. Granted, I don’t have her genes, but I’d still like to hope there is a white bathing suit someday in my future – and I’ll look half as lovely as she.

I don’t often actively mourn actors or actresses – it’s never been my thing. I mourn the loss of writers, artists, innovators, and yes, icons. Elizabeth Taylor was an icon. She was one of the last of a generation of Hollywood where talent was in abundance and beauty was natural and flawless. Suddenly, Last Summer will always be a favorite film of mine, and until the day I die, I will continue my search for that white bathing suit. Like my mom’s prized Halston that hangs in her closet, I, too, want something that I took years to acquire, a nod to a glamorous past, and a piece that will never go out of style.

Share This Post:
    • Paige Swain

      This could not have been said better. I first saw the movie at 15, when I was already a D cup. I wanted to wear the gold bangles, the flat sandals, dark green dress and of course have effortless beauty of the original diva in a white swim suit. The world is a little less glamorous today. She will be missed deeply by this 22 year old.