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March 4, 2024

25 Vintage Advertisements of Jantzen Swimwear From the 1940s

In 1910, Portland Knitting Company began in downtown Portland, Oregon, with a few hand-knitting machines above a tiny retail store. Little did founders Carl Jantzen, Roy and John Zehntbauer know that they would achieve both fame and controversy as swimwear pioneers. Producing a wool suit for a rowing team they began offering “bathing suits” in their catalog. Knit on sweater cuff machines, the suits became popular with swimmers. The demand increased for those “Jantzens” and the company name was changed in 1918 to Jantzen Knitting Mills. The suits were made of 100% pure virgin wool. Matching stockings and stocking cap completed the costume of the day. Early advertisements guaranteed the famous rib-stitch “gives that wonderful fit.”

A national advertising campaign included billboards in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Cutouts and decals of the red Diving Girl appeared on windshields of automobiles across the country. Sales during the decade spread throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia. The red Diving Girl icon had become an international symbol. The Jantzen Swimming Association sponsored swimming education and clean water programs across the country. Endorsements by celebrities began with 1924 Olympic Games champions Johnny Weismuller and Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii. Fashion became increasingly important. “Color Harmony,” a range of colors and color combinations, was introduced to suit the coloration of every swimmer.

Jantzen catalogs featured upcoming movie stars, including Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, and Dick Powell. National magazines such as Esquire, the Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Colliers published advertisements illustrated by George Petty, who became famous for his air-brush depictions of handsome men and shapely women. Jantzen’s philosophy of flattering the female form defined the company. In 1931, the introduction of the “Shouldaire” allowed strap-free tanning. An internal drawstring above the bustline allowed the shoulder straps to be dropped. The concept of “Molded Fit” defined the bustline. Lastex, a rubberized yarn, was blended into the fabric to allow better give to the suit. Synthetics, such as rayon, appeared with cotton or silk. Later in the decade, woven patterned fabrics in many color combinations made their debut.

Business perked up in 1941 after Jantzen added sweaters, foundations (girdles) and active sportswear to its basic line. In December of that year, the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the economic picture through 1945. Production of civilian goods declined while military orders increased. Military items produced by Jantzen included sweaters, swim trunks, sleeping bags, gas mask carriers, and parachutes. With the war's end, the company stressed new styling by nationally known designers such as Louella Ballerino. Nylon was a preferred fabric. The bikini introduced in France in 1946, set the style for brevity in swimwear and became a worldwide fashion classic.

Here, a collection of 25 wonderful adverts of Jantzen swimwear from the 1940s:


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