Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Victorian Swimwear

The past couple of weeks have been a wee bit too warm for me, being in the 30s (Celsius). I'm more of a fall/winter girl, and burn easily so tend to avoid roaming outside on summer days to much. I was very happy though this weekend, when the delightful Ms. Chloe invited me and some friends over to enjoy a neighbour's pool. It provided a much needed break from the heat and it was tons of fun!

It got me thinking about bathing in the Victorian era. I have to say I'm very glad I live in the era of the bikini. At the start of the 19th century bathing was popular, but was more difficult for women to indulge in, due to the constraints of modesty. Bathing was usually segregated by gender, and while men were allowed to bathe nude until the 1860s, women were expected to be clothed fully and avoid getting tanned by the sun. To accommodate this, ladies often used bathing machines. Invented in southern Britain in the 1730s, the bathing machine was a sort of hut on wheels that was wheeled into the ocean, usually by horses. It allowed the bather to enter the machine, change in to their bathing attire, then exit the hut into the water.

There were also bathing machines that lowered one into the water, then yanked you back out again (sounds horrid). The bathing machine also served to block the view of the lady bathers from prying male eyes. It was not unusual for beaches to be lined with bathing machines virtually walling off the view of the sea.
In the early 1800s bathing attire for ladies consisted of a simple dress over bloomers, and a bonnet and gloves to block out the sun. Ladies would often sew weights into the hem of or dresses to avoid it floating up and showing their legs (heaven forbid).

In the mid 19th century, bathing suits were being made out of wool, and consisted of bloomers with a knee length dress. Being made of wool they were quite heavy and didn't allow for much mobility. All you could really do is splash around by your little hut, smelling like a soggy sheep.

In the late 1800s the dresses and the bloomers for bathing got shorter. Segregation of men and women declined, and by 1901 it was no longer enforced. This led to the demise of the bathing machine, as it was no longer necessary to retain modesty.

In Edwardian times, the bathing attire became lighter, a little more revealing and definitely more flattering to the female figure. I actually rather like the two outfits below, especially the one on the right (I'd wear that).

Another friend (thanks Jaz!) sent me a link a while ago to Captain Robert's Victorian swimwear - see Here I would totally wear this to the beach coupled with a parasol!

Right now I have a black bikini and a leopard print bikini. Not very gothy, but it'll have to do. What do usually wear to the beach?

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  1. I would love to see an updated version or a Victoria-inspired swimsuit.

  2. Thank God the bathing machines and heavy swimwear went out of style. I want to be as close to naked as possible when I jump into water- makes for easy swimming and easier drying off! My mom used to make me wear t-shirts to the pool or the beach if I got sunburnt (she had had borderline melanoma when she was pregnant with me and my twin sister, and the experience freaked her out so much that she became a sunscreen Nazi). The t-shirt would always stick to one at odd places, and if any of it was raised above the water during a breeze I would start shivering like I was swimming in Cape Cod instead of the warmer South Carolinian waters or a pool in western PA.

  3. That was really interesting.

    Me? Simple two piece brown bathing suit. I have a black bikini, but it is more or less undergarment and not for bathing.