Warren County Historical Society Presents …


July 1, 2014


Fashionable Attire at the Seaside

 With the approach of the summer swimming season, Collections Manager, Judy Melkonian thought it might be fun to look at bathing fashions of the past.

Swimwear 1


The warming weather makes us think of the warm summer days ahead.  Maybe you even have a trip to the seaside on your mind.  The cool waves lapping at your toes and the warm sun on your face, but wait, there was a time when it was considered in questionable taste for women to bathe at the seashore.  Let us go back to the late 1800s, a time when fashionable women had actually learned to be athletic and could swim and dive and, in short, to be quite at home in the water, as bathing had become a very general custom and perfectly correct.

Swimwear 5

            The August Journal of Fashion, Culture and Fine Arts, of 1892 stated there were two types of feminine bathers.  First, there is the woman who knows she appears well in the water and enters it fearlessly and gracefully; and then there is the one who is aware she “look a fright” when bathing, and so puts on her suit and contents herself with paddling around in the shallow water, never getting her skirt wet.

Swimwear 2

Skirt, did you say?  Oh, my, yes!  The sensitive woman going to the shore, especially for the first time, should have proper attire.  She never wears a bathing suit of light color.  If you make this mistake, you will at once feel as though you were the most conspicuous figure among all the bathers, and as though everybody were looking at you, and you only.  Choose a suit of dark-color or, better still, of black material.  In dressing for the water, the tasteful woman first dons a thin under-vest, and over that, an old pair of corsets from which the bones have been removed.  Then she puts on a pair of long black yarn stockings, for woolen stockings look much better when wet than cotton ones, and, besides, are never too thin, as cotton hose are likely to be.  Elastics about the knees keep the stockings in place.  Then comes the under part of the black bathing suit, the waist and knee trousers being in one piece.  The waist has a sailor collar, and the sleeves reach nearly to the elbows.  The short skirt, which would extend nearly to the shoe-tops, if shoes were worn, is buttoned to the waist; and over it is arranged a white canvas belt well drawn to the figure.

Swimwear 3

The management of hair while bathing can be rather difficult.  If the tresses are allowed to become thoroughly wet, it is a long and tiresome task to render them presentable.  The average bather is aware that nothing is uglier than a rubber bathing cap, but the successful bather manages this uncharitable head covering in such a way that it is positively becoming.  She first arranges her hair in two tight braids and pins them closely to the head.  The she ties on two false braids, which hang down the back giving the effect of natural hair.  The cap is made of black stockinet lined with rubber, and under its edge is sewed the suggestion of a fringe of hair.  This cap completes a truly desirable bathing outfit, and it is so protective that half an hour from leaving the water, her hair is dry, beautifully curler and the envy of all of her friends.

Swimwear 4

And one more tip – should you sunburn or tan, the application of 1 ounce of sweet oil – 1 ounce of sulphur and 2 ounces of alcohol will whiten and soften the skin.


Prepared for the Warren County Historical Society by Judy Melkonian.

© July 1,  2014, Warren County Historical Society




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