It’s Swimsuit Season with Jantzen

Now that summer is officially here, it’s time to try on swimsuits.  Let’s check out some ofJantzen‘s product line, known for its glamorous, stretchable, slimming swimwear.

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by George Petty, June 13, 1938

Jantzen swimsuits began as a special request from a member of the Portland Rowing Club.  He wanted rowing trunks which didn’t require a drawstring and would be warm enough for cold mornings on the river.  The company, officially named the Portland Knitting Company, designed swimming trunks out of wool that when wet, were eight pounds in weight.  Soon after, lighter-weight versions for women were designed along with accessories including a cap, cape, and stockings.

By 1918, the company had renamed itself Jantzen Knitting Mills, after one of the three founders, Carl C. Jantzen (the other two founders were John A. and C. R. Zehntbauer).  By 1920, freelance artists had designed the Red Diving Girl logo, which would become the symbol for the company. The symbol became so popular that it was printed on windshield decals ; the city of Boston banned the use of the decals in 1924, believing they were too distracting to drivers.

Jantzen hired the leading illustrators of the time to create advertisements for their swimsuits.  Some of the first artists were Coles Phillips and Anita Parkhurst, whose advertisements were featured in full-color in Vogue and Life.  Later the advertisements would appear in other popular magazines including Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.

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by McClelland Barclay, Saturday Evening Post, July 3, 1926

In the 1930s, Jantzen ads featured pin-up girl style artwork including that of George Petty.  Petty used an airbrush to create his illustrations, which gave them a unique look to other illustrations of the time. The Petty Girl, which debuted in Esquire in 1933, was a pin-up girl with longer legs and a smaller head than the average woman.  Jantzen sold copies of their Petty Girls without text for 10¢.

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by George Petty, Colliers’, June 19, 1937

The Petty Girl became so successful that Jantzen created a Petty Girl swimsuit in 1940.  The swimsuit, which came in both women’s and men’s styles, featured Lastex yarn that allowed the suit to stretch in all directions, providing better garment control.

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by George Petty, June 8, 1940

When World War II began, Jantzen shifted its production to making parachutes, sleeping bags, and gas-mask carriers for the military.  There were still advertisements for new swimsuits, although it is unclear if these swimsuits were produced before the war or still being produced in limited quantities during the war.

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Earl Oliver Hurst illustrated the war-time Jantzen ads.  Hurst was known to often draw two versions of a concept, adding to and altering the second version to see if it improved.

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by Earl Oliver Hurst, 1940s

While Hurst continued illustrating for Jantzen after the war, Jantzen hired additional popular artists to promote the post-war product line.   In 1947, Al Parker, during the peak of his popularity, was asked by Jantzen to create the official store poster.

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advertisement for store poster designed by Al Parker, 1947

Post-war ads featured a pin-up style art by Pete Hawley.  Of all the artists contracted to work for Jantzen, Hawley remained with Jantzen the longest.

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by Pete Hawley, Saturday Evening Post, June 29, 1946

Hawley was known for drawing attention-grabbing eyes, especially on his female characters.   In addition to swimsuits, the artist also illustrated Jantzen’s clothing and undergarment product line through the 1950s.

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by Pete Hawley, Seventeen, May 1950

Since the 1980s, Jantzen has functioned as a subsidiary for larger product lines.  In 1980, it was brought by Blue Bell, known for Wrangler Jeans.  In 1986, it became part of VF Corporation. In 2002, the brand was purchased by Perry Ellis International.

Credits:

The Al Parker poster advertisement is from the Al Parker Collection.

The Pete Hawley advertisements are from the Charles Craver Collection.

The George Petty and Earl Olvier Hurst advertisements are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Information about Jantzen was from:

Gianbarba, Paul. Jantzen Illustrators. 100 Years of Illustration and Design. 2013.

Jantzen. Oregon Encyclopedia.  2010.

Vintage Advertising Spotlight: Jantzen Swimwear. All Graphically. November 12, 2012

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.