Gantner & Mattern Bathing Suit, 1920

As I said in my last post, online shopping has been great lately. Maybe it is due to sellers not having as many in real life selling opportunities, but there have been some fantastic things come up for sale this summer and fall. High on my list of purchases is this bathing suit from Gantner & Mattern.

I could talk all day about the attributes of this suit, starting with the colors. By 1920s orange was a popular fashion color, and it remained in style throughout the decade. The blue is also a good 1920s color. In fast, I have another early 1920s bathing suit in the exact color.

By 1920 the women’s bathing standby suit, two pieces usually made of a thin woven wool or blends of mohair and silk was being replaced by the knit suit. Most knit suits were knit in one piece, with the trunks attached to the dress. This suit is interesting because it is two pieces like the older style.

It is also interesting because of the slightly raised waistline. We tend to associate the dropped waist with the 1920s, but in the beginning of the decade the waist continued to be high as it was in the last part of the 1910s. At the same time, the shape of the body was becoming more tubular.

When I first saw this suit on Instagram, the crocheted trim intrigued me. When evaluating a piece of old clothing, you always have to consider that alterations could have been made at some point in the garment’s life. I have actually seen a 1920s knit suit where the back was cut to a fashionable 1930s scoop, with the edges finished with crochet. So I spent a long time looking at the crochet trim, trying to figure if it was original. The uniformity of the color, and the evenness of the applied trim led me to believe the crochet was original.

The real proof can be seen in this photo. Where the label was stitched onto the suit stitches over the orange yarn of the crochet, indicating the crochet was applied before the label.

Here’s a bit of Gantner & Mattern history I wrote several years ago in another post:

One of the great, but lesser-known California swimwear makers of the 20th century was Gantner-Mattern.  Like most of the makers of swimsuits, they started out as makers of knitwear – stockings, underwear, and sporting sweaters.  By the turn of the century, they were making the swimsuits that made them famous.

The company got its start in San Francisco in 1877 at the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company.  By the late 1890s, two employees, corporate secretary John O. Gantner and mill superintendent Alfred Mattern had left Pfister to start their own knitting company.  That was lucky for them because the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the Pfister operation, while Gantner-Mattern was located in a safe area.  Pfister was able to rebuild with the help of two friends, but it is not known if the friends in question were actually Gantner and Mattern.

Swimwear quickly became the main product at Gantner-Mattern.  In the first days of the 20th century, swimming was becoming increasingly popular, and with the purchase of a Gantner-Mattern swimsuit, one got a free pair of waterwings to help the buyer learn to swim, or at least stay afloat!  In 1932, Gantner-Mattern was the first company to produce a topless swimsuit – for men!  Yes, it was still considered indecent in many places for a man to swim without a tank top in the early 1930s, but before long this quaint old custom was only a memory.

Thanks to Over Attired Vintage for this fantastic addition to my collection.

5 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports

5 responses to “Gantner & Mattern Bathing Suit, 1920

  1. I’m always unnerved by how revealing these suits would be when they were wet: no bra shelf, no modesty panels, just clingy wet wool or silk knit material on a cold, wet body. A male jogger once said he loved passing other joggers on cold mornings; “It’s nipply out today,” he used to say.

    Like

  2. jacq staubs

    Yes – thank you Witness. Now i know where that saying came from! After all of these years Old hounds (like me) can learn new tricks. Does that suit look itchy when wet?

    Like

  3. Those colors are so bright and not faded! Think it was worn very much?

    Like

  4. Eric Smith

    The crochet trim is amazing- one would guess that at least the first row was done on a Merrow machine- I know they could automatically edge with scallops, but is this machine done? And love the colours- so period.

    Like

  5. Christina

    The condition of this swimsuit is amazing. Looks as if it hasn’t been worn. Wonderful find!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.