Thanks to the expanding railroads, trips to the coast became more commonplace in the Victorian era. These seaside holidays became popular even though the number of people who actually knew how to swim was relatively small, and such activities were considered beneath certain classes. Prim Victorian society dictated the early seaside fashion, and even the swim costumes were tailored for modesty, rather than comfort. This evolved throughout the Victorian era.
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The modesty of seaside costumes evolved gradually. The 19th century demanded a stricter policy on what was considered appropriate, and since swimwear took cues from ordinary dress, the early seaside Victorian bathing dresses covered everything. Heavy fabrics like wool or flannel were used to prevent the garment from becoming see-through in the water.
In the mid-1800s, Amelia Bloomer created the revolutionary clothing for women that would come to bear her name. These billowy trousers that gathered at the ankle inspired seaside bathing costumes in the mid-19th century, but were still made of heavy, restrictive material that would weigh down the swimmer. As the century drew to a close, the hemline of the bloomers shortened considerably. Thanks to the growing popularity of activities like swimming, these costumes would come to flatter the swimmer's figure and bare a bit more skin by the early 1900s.
As necessity gave birth to innovation, certain precautions were put in place to protect the modesty of female swimmers. Resorts provided transportation to take swimmers discreetly to their own private part of the beach. These "bathing machines" were enclosed vans that generally measured six feet by six feet, and were used as mobile dressing rooms where women could change and store their clothes to keep them dry.
Swimwear in the 1890s consisted of a black sundress made out of wool, knee-length with puffy sleeves and decorative collars. Sailor's collars were common, as were bloomers trimmed with bows or ribbons. Black stockings covered up the legs, and the ensemble was completed with swimming caps and laced swimming shoes. Prior to the 1920s, parasols and hats were used as a sunscreen by those on the Victorian seaside who refrained from swimming or bathing.
Even up until the Edwardian era, middle class women opted to steer clear of paddling around in the sea, but rather left that for their children and their nannies. Instead, the promenade along the shore was the perfect place for fashionable Victorian lads or lasses to show off their seaside attire, as well as mingle in a more casual atmosphere. The dress was also slightly less formal for both men and women. In the late 1800s women traded crinolines for corsets and bustles, while the men embraced a nautical influence for their dress.
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