This snapshot from 1915 will give you a pretty good idea of what (fictional) Miriam Josefsohn and her parents might have worn when they ventured into the Pacific surf off the Oregon coast. Not far from their home in Portland a (real) sweater manufacturing company was starting to experiment with lighter weight and more revealing bathing suits.

 

For centuries, people swam in the nude. Then some folks went for the cover-up-everything look that made swimming difficult. Bulky suits were still in fashion in 1913 when men from the Portland Rowing Club asked John and C. Roy Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen, to design a knitted swimming garment. The three men had started Portland Knitting Co. in 1910 and were members of the Club. They used a sweater cuff machine to design a virgin wool garment that revolutionized the swimwear industry. The company changed its name in 1918 to Jantzen Knitting Mills and set to work making itself an international success.

Frank and Florenz Clark sketched the company’s logo—the Red Diving Girl—from divers training at Portland’s Multnomah Athletic Club for the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium.  Soon Jantzen suits seemed to be on everyone, from race car drivers and athletes to movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and rock idol Elvis Presley.

Only a few dozen Jantzen employees remain in Portland, since Perry Ellis International bought the Jantzen brand in 2002.  But the Red Diving Girl, who has changed her shape slightly over the years, still survives.

 

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