Reflections on the History of Swimwear by gpy25569


                                                                                                                                                       by Virginia Sowers

Reflections on the History of Swimwear                                                                                              FULL CIRCLE COVERAGE
                                                                                                                                    B.C.: Greeks and Romans wear
                                                                                                                                    togas to their “baths.”
                                                                                                                                    Middle Ages: Virtually no
                                                                                                                                    swimming, nowhere.
                                                                                                                                    Victorian Era: Head-to-toe
                                                                                                                                    coverage; modesty reigns.
                                                                                                                                    1913: Portland Knitting Co.
                                                                                                                                    (forerunner of Jantzen) produces
                                                                                                                                    a woolen bathing suit for a
                                                                                                                                    rowing club member.
                                                                                                                                    1920s: Tank suits reveal limbs
                                                                                                                                    and provide more freedom of
                                                                                                                                    movement in the water. Jantzen
                                                                                                                                    devises a marketing campaign to

                                                                                                                                    change bathing suits to
                                                                                                                                    swimming suits, and begins to
                                                                                                                                    promote swimming as a sport.
                                                                                                                                    The Red Diving Girl highlights
                                                                                                                                    Jantzen’s 1921 foray into
                                                                                                                                    national advertising. Admirers
                                                                                                                                    cut the bathing beauty from the
                                                                                                                                    Jantzen catalog cover and
                                                                                                                                    pasted her on the windshields
                                                                                                                                    of their autos. In Australia,
                                                                                                                                    Speedo introduces the
                                                                                                                                    Racerback athletic tank in 1928.
                                                                                                                                    1930s: American Rubber

>I       n the early 20th century,
         technology and
practicality came to the fore on
                                          therapeutic reasons to going
                                          for recreational enjoyment,”
                                          says Alhadeff. Enter Jantzen’s
                                                                                                  came along in the 1930s,
                                                                                                  Jantzen introduced the bra-lift
                                                                                                  suit for women. Suddenly there
                                                                                                                                    introduces Lastex, an extruded
                                                                                                                                    rubber surrounded by fiber,
                                                                                                                                    providing a tighter fit and more
                                                                                                                                    structure to swimsuits. Men go
parallel tracks, and modern-              Red Diving Girl, with the                               was shape and structure. Men      swimming shirtless, first in
day swimwear was born. Story              accompanying slogan, “The                               got their turn that same          Hollywood, and then gradually on
has it that a member of the               suit that changed bathing to                            decade, with the Jantzen          the East Coast as regulations
                                                                                                                                    loosen on full-body coverage
Portland Rowing Club in                   swimming.” Exquisite in her                             “topper,” a tank top easily
                                                                                                                                    while swimming.
Oregon prevailed on three of              cap and stockings, she                                  unzipped from the trunks and
                                                                                                                                    1940s: Women’s midriffs peek
his fellow club members who               appeared in three national ads                          removed.                          out, and the bikini hits the Paris
owned the Portland Knitting               that Jantzen ran in Vogue and                              Fashion houses then came       runway in 1946, but scant
Co. to make him rowing trunks             LIFE magazines and on                                   to the party, especially in the   coverage is not widely accepted
suitable for foul-weather days.           billboards in San Francisco                             post-war 1940s when nylon         until the1960s.
The one-piece suit was a                  and Los Angeles. “In 1921,                              changed swimwear once again,      1950s: Quick-dry nylon (invented
tipping point for the knitting            that was revolutionary,”                                and luxurious miracle yarns       by DuPont in 1938) becomes the
                                                                                                                                    rage in swimwear. DuPont
company that would become                 says Alhadeff.                                          produced other velvety            introduces Lycra spandex fiber in
known as Jantzen. “It was                    With a little marketing                              synthetics favored in the 1950s   1959, but it will take another
made of 100 percent virgin                prowess, swimwear was soon                              and ’60s. The French maillot      decade to transform swimsuits
wool and weighed 8 pounds                 on the rise worldwide. In                               and the two-piece suit dawned     from droopy to snug.
when wet,” says Carol                     Australia, the MacRae Hosiery                           for women. Then came Lycra in     1960s: Focus turns to style and
Alhadeff, Jantzen historian.              company introduced the                                  the 1970s, with swimwear          design innovations for swimwear.

   By 1915, the company’s                 Racerback swimming suit in                              technology making another         1970s: Lycra looms large on the
                                                                                                                                    swimming scene—all stretch and
catalog featured a lighter-               1928, along with the slogan,                            leap forward.
                                                                                                                                    no bag.
weight, rib-stitch bathing suit.          “Speed on in your Speedos,”                                Through the decades,
                                                                                                                                    2000: Swimwear goes full circle
“They stretched because of the            which led to a name change for                          Jantzen’s Red Diving Girl kept
                                                                                                                                    with the Adidas full bodysuit
way they were knit,” Alhadeff             the company.                                            pace, undergoing three            (1998 concept) and Speedo’s
explains. Encouraged by sales                The athletic tank suit of the                        transitions: sans cap and         Fastskin making their debut, and
success of these early suits,             1920s freed swimmers’ arms                              stockings in 1928, strapless in   full-body coverage becoming at
                                                                                                                                    once high tech and high fashion.
Jantzen next embarked on a                and legs from their                                     1948 and sleekly elongated in
bold marketing plan to                    encumbrances, but suits were                            1980. Her marketing star has      Sources: Jantzen Inc. and Speedo brand
                                                                                                                                    history archives; Archives Center of the
“change the idea of going to              still flat knit with little shape.                      now set, but she’s the girl who   National Museum of American History.
the water for medicinal and               When Lastex rubberized yarn                             helped change it all. <<<

 50      USMS SWIMMER   |   november - december 2005   |   w w w . u s m s s w i m m e r. c o m

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