During the late 19th Century, there was an increase of interest in outdoor activities and in particular going to the beach. At the same time, there was a corresponding interest in having the right look for such occasions. For beachgoing, yachting, or simply spending time at the seashore, designers were quick to respond and by the 1890s, there was a plethora of styles available to women.
Sometimes bathing costume was not available…
It could probably be argued that the first seaside fashions per se where those created for yachting, an activity that was decidedly limited to the upper classes. John Redfern was one of the first to popularize Yachting costume in the 1870s, being conveniently located on the Island of Cowes, the site of the Cowes Regatta which was one of the largest yachting events in Europe. Yachting costume pretty much followed regular day fashions with the only difference being an incorporation of nautical themes derived from naval uniforms, both officer and enlisted (i.e. sailors). Because of the nature of sailing, fabrics tended towards wool, cotton, and linen and trim and ornamentation tended towards the more minimal (although there were always exceptions).
Some of Redfern’s “boating” or yachting fashions in the July 16, 1887 issue of The Queen.
Here is one example of yachting dress that’s possibly attributed to Redfern (according to the auction website) from c. 1895:
Yachting Dress, c. 1895 (originally made in 1890, sleeves have been modified); Kerry Taylor Auctions Website.
Full Front View
Another Close-Up Of Bodice
Close-Up Of Bodice
This dress is constructed from a cream-color wool with matching upper sleeves made from a silk “grosgrain”- we suspect that it might be a silk bengaline or faille but the picture quality is not good so it’s hard to determine. It would be interesting to know how it looked in its original configuration before the leg-of-mutton sleeves were installed but we can only assume that the sleeves would have been fairly close to the shoulders with perhaps a small “kick-out” at the top.
Here’s another example from 1897 constructed of a cream-colored linen:
Yachting Dress, c. 1897; Preservation Society of Newport County
This yachting dress was part of the wedding trousseau for Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (née Natalie Bayard Dresser) who had the dress embroidered with the insignia of the New York Yacht Club in 1897.
And as an aside, we have always wondered just how women managed to get on or off of a yacht, given the somewhat confining nature of late 19th Century fashion… 🙂
But it wasn’t all about yachting dress, the nautical theme was carried over into dresses intended simply to be worn at the seashore, whether on the beach or close by:
Day Dress, American, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.171.3a–c)
Close-Up Of Front
Front Three-Quarter Profile
This dress is made of a mocha or dark khaki-colored linen and was made around 1900; based on the full blouse silhouette (suggestive of the pigeon-breast style), we believe it dates from the early 1900s. With its free-flowing lines, this dress allowed freedom of movement and the linen material was the perfect choice for wear in warm weather.
Taking the nautical theme further, here’s a similar dress from c. 1895:
Day Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.150a–e)
Like the first dress, this one is also constructed of linen, also in a shade of khaki. This dress is a little more fitted than the first with a slightly longer, narrow skirt and a more fitted blouse but is still practical for wear on the beach on hot summer days. 🙂
Finally, here’s another dress from 1895 that employs a different color combination:
Day Dress, American, c. 1895; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York ( P84.25.2)
The above dress is made from a white cotton pique with salmon-colored cotton trim that’s utilized on the hem, cuffs, belt, and collar. In contrast with the first two dresses, this one is a more structured and definitely has a typical 1890s silhouette (of course, the difference between the dresses may be simply be a matter of staging).
And sometimes one had to improvise at the beach…
Whether or not people wore the right look, the seashore never failed to attract people and especially on a hot summer day. Enjoy your summer! 🙂