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Pretty in purple

A splash of color helped transform a La Crosse undergarment into a cover for a swimsuit 50 years later.

A previous installation of Things That Matter has featured the Leona — an undergarment invented and produced in La Crosse by Leona Foerster Linker.

This week’s Things That Matter is a Leona that was repurposed with a splash of color.

In 1905, Linker named her combination creation after herself.

The Leona is a 3-in-1 early 20th century women’s undergarment that combined three necessary women’s undergarments, the chemise (worn under the corset), bloomers and drawers into one convenient article of clothing.

A lady would put her corset on over the Leona, and then a corset cover, or camisole, and petticoats would be added.

Leonas came in various sizes and degrees of fanciness. Some were very simple, while others were trimmed with fancy laces and made of fine fabrics.

Although the garments varied in design, they were all white. The price of the undergarment ranged from $1 to $12, depending upon the material and degree of decoration: most Leonas cost about $2.

The Leona soon became obsolete as women’s undergarments and outfits drastically changed in the 1920s, and a minimum of three layers was no longer necessary.

About 50 years ago, the Leona pictured here found a second life on the beaches of Hawaii in the 1970s.

The Satory family purchased a box of brand-new Leonas at the Linker estate sale.

The Leonas purchased at the estate were along the lines of the company’s basic product and were trimmed around the neck and sleeves with a narrow band of lace. Christine Satory took the Leonas to Hawaii and tie-dyed them various colors. After they were dyed, she sold them as swimsuit cover-ups.

According to a sales catalog from the Leona Garment Co., the Leona is “wonderfully convenient — on and off in an instant.” This quality of the Leona made it an ideal swimsuit cover, for a generation that was unfamiliar with the article’s original purpose.

John Satory, brother of Christine, donated this purple Leona and a brand-new white Leona to La Crosse County Historical Society in 2018.

This purple Leona and others from La Crosse County Historical Society’s artifact collection can be seen in our online database.

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