During the 1930’s and early 1940’s knitted swimwear became fashionable. But this was not just down to one designer or a single fad of fashion. No, there were a number of events and culture changes which, when taken together provided the context for this fashion revolution.
Until the advent of synthetic fibres, which were created by Dupont in 1941, only natural fibres were available. Of these the most common were wool made from sheep or less commonly alpaca, angora or llama. Sheep’s wool contains a natural waterproofing agent called lanolin. Retaining higher amounts of lanolin in the production process allows for higher waterproofing properties. For this reason Victorian ladies, who as fashion would have it, had to cover themselves for bathing, wore full knitted tunics. However the nature of the woollen fabric was to cling once wet, somewhat defeating the object.
By the turn of the century mixed bathing was less frowned upon, however the cover up rule still applied. In 1907 Annette Kellerman was arrested for appearing on a beach in a knitted bathing suit that revealed her arms and legs. Men were still expected to cover their chests for bathing and sunbathing, until the mid 1930’s when it became acceptable to remove the top half of the swim suit when actually swimming. In France a designer by the name of Jean Patou was changing the fashion designs of the times. His designing was interupted by WWI but in 1919 he returned to his salon and designed tennis outfits, and for many is credited as the inventer of knitted swimwear. His designs were functional rather than as an extension of day time clothes previously adapted to conserve modesty. He also included a label with his garmants thus starting the designer label trend.