Vintage Swimwear

This is a fun photograph that I thought I would share before the summer completely slips away. This snapshot was labeled on the back, and, years ago, I was also able to hear its story from my late great-grandmother, Fern Lavonne (Thoma) Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa. Well, more than its story, I remember her laughing about her bathing suit! The photograph was taken in 1924, at the river near Scribner, Dodge County, Nebraska.

Fern Lavonne (Thoma) Adam photograph, 1924; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Fern Lavonne (Thoma) Adam photograph, 1924, Scribner, Nebraska; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Fern lived in Scribner, where her father opened a grocery store, for a few years in the early 1920s. She remembered attending dances there, as well as learning to drive. Her father gave her a lesson immediately when she remarked that she would like to learn, and the next day, when she asked for another lesson, he told her to go ahead on her own!1 Apparently, Fern also enjoyed taking advantage of the opportunity to swim in the Elkhorn River during her short time in Scribner. She is pictured here at center; at left is Lucille Romberg, and at right is Helen Kellner. These young ladies must have been good friends in the summer of 1924, when Fern would have been sixteen years old.

In order to learn more about vintage bathing suits, I turned to Threaded, the Smithsonian’s blog about fashion history. From there I learned that a company by the name of Jantzen devised a “swimming suit” made of wool in 1915, and that by 1921, the name had stuck.2 My great-grandmother and her friends appear to be wearing typical knitted wool swimsuits of the era, comprised of long, sleeveless, v-necked tunics, fitted shorts, and, in my great-grandmother’s case, knee high stockings, rolled at the top. The girls wear their hair inside knit swimming caps, the one on the left being slightly more elaborate with a small brim. They all squint in the sun and lean together for the photograph, happy and relaxed on a summer’s day.

Have you come across any photographs featuring early styles of swimwear?



SOURCES
1 Fern Lavonne (Thoma) Adam, conversations with the author, 2001.
2 “The Swimsuit Series, Part 1: A History of Women’s Suits,” Threaded, 22 June 2012 (http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/threaded/2012/06/the-swimsuit-series-part-1-a-history-of-womens-suits/ : accessed 6 September 2013).

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