1890s Bathing Costume

Recently, we decided to get out of the house (and maintain social distancing) and take a drive along the Pacific Coast. That drive prompted us to think about how Victorians experienced the seashore during the 1890s and thus this post was born. It’s a little off our usual beaten path but we think that you’ll like it. 🙂


During the Victorian Era. During the late 19th Century, various forms of specialized dress rapidly developed and especially when it came to sporting activities. This was an especially revolutionary development for women in that it signaled that the status of women in society was changing. Where once Women were expected to remain focused solely on domestic activities, they were now increasingly leading public lives and often independent of men (granted, this was an uneven process that continues up to the present).

One of the most dramatic developments was the development of “bathing costume” which allowed women to go swimming at a lake, river, or seashore while maintaining decorum and modesty. However, this was not a smooth process and there was resistance from the more conservative elements to the point where the wearing of bathing costume was either completely illegal or subject to stringent regulation to the point where women could be arrested for indecent exposure if their bathing costume failed to meet local standards.

Le Monitor 1893

Le Moniteur de la mode, c. 1893

Specific bathing costume can be traced back at least the 1850s but it wasn’t until the 1890s that bathing costume emerged as a major trend, spurred by the idea that going to the beach was considered to be a healthful social activity.

Too often we think of people in the Victorian era as being bored or even morose. These photos humanize an era by capturing those elusive smiling Victorian faces.:

And the market responded… 🙂 The catalog advertisement below is only one of the wide variety of ads that were out there during the 1890s:

Jordan, Marsh & Co., Women's Bathing Suits Spring and Summer, 1897 Mohair plus water plus a hot summer day, what could be more comfortable than that?:

Page From An 1897 Jordan Marsh Catalog

Bathing costume during the 1890s usually consisted of a top, blouse, short bloomers or knickers and a skirt. Stockings and special “bathing boots” made of canvas and cork soles were also worn, all with the idea of the woman not showing too much skin. The fabrics used for making bathing costume were usually wool flannel, wool jersey, mohair, linen, cotton, or some combination thereof. Needless to say, these were not intended for serious swimming (that would come later) but rather wading or simply lounging on the beach. Style-wise, bathing costumes had a nautical theme with sailor collars and the predominant use of blues and blacks.

Victorian Bathing Suits

Posed Picture, c. 1902; Library of Congress

Below are some examples of bathing costume. First, here is one from c. 1878 – 1880 where we see the basic silhouette and style that was to predominate in the 1890s starting to become established:

CI50.77.1a–c_F

Bathing Costume, c. 1878 – 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.77.1a–c)

CI50.77.1ac_B

Rear View Of The Top

CI50.77.1ac_F

Front View Of The Top

CI50.77.1b_F

The Bottom

Here’s a later version from the 1890s:

M992.115.2-P1

Bathing Costume, c. 1890s; McCord Museum (M992.115.2)

As can be seen from the above, bathing wear had a nautical style reminiscent of naval uniforms of the period, a theme that was to continue on into the early 1900s.

However, even back in the 1890s, there could be dramatic exceptions to the norm when it came to fashion and that was especially evident with this “startling bathing costume” pictured in the August 22, 1897 edition of the San Francisco Call:

fashion1_sfcall_aug22_1897

The above outfit is certainly a departure from the typical dark-colored nautical-theme in that the base color is white, constructed of horizontal layers of white wool serge. The model is wearing only the knickers and a one-piece bodice/shirt. She appears to be perhaps holding a skirt or cape of sorts. What is interesting is that the front and back of the top match the horizontal layers of the knickers and it appears to almost be a one-piece outfit. This is definitely fashion-forward beach wear of the time. 🙂

Finally, we leave you with this picture below of some frolicking beach-goers, all dressed in variations of the standard 1890s bathing costume style:

Santa Monica 1898

“Out for a Time,” Long Beach, c. 1898; California State Library

We hope you have enjoyed this little summer excursion to the beach. 🙂



At The Beach…

As noted in yesterday’s post, interest in sports and outdoor life by both men and women led to the development of specialized clothing to include bathing costume. The attractions of going to the beach as a relief to the hot summer weather was attractive to the point where the 1880s and 1890s, there was a rapid growth of seaside resorts such as Atlantic City and Coney Island. California also had its seaside resorts such as Coronado and Santa Monica. Below is a poem with illustrations from the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call:

bathingsuits_sfcall_jun21_1896

From the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call.

And here’s the poem from the above illustration:

Dance, old sea, for your charmer neareth!
There! She is wrapped in your lace of foam!
Never your summery smile she feareth!
Ha! She is down near the sea pears home!

Rare as the pearl her pink foot presses-
Rare as the pink of the pearls, her charms!
Wave that enfolds her, what fortune blesses-
What bliss- as she sways in the wild wave’s arms.

Happy sea, by our west shore golden;
Seas of the east- do they chafe and reel,
There where naught can the maids embolden
More than their sandal shoons to wet?

Perhaps the verse is not the best but it’s certainly enthusiastic and celebrates the superiority of the California coast. 🙂 In the end, whether it’s fashion, music, or popular culture in general, nothing is really ever “new.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion back to 1896.

Hotel Del Coronado, c. 1890



Seaside Fashion…

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.

Beach 1890s

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).

Redfern Yachting Fashion Queen 1887

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

Yachting Dress, c. 1895 (originally made in 1890, sleeves have been modified); Kerry Taylor Auctions Website.

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Full Front View

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Another Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Side Profile

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Rear View

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 Fashion c. 1897

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… 🙂

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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 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, American, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.171.3a–c)

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Close-Up Of Front

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Front Three-Quarter Profile

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

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 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.150a–e)

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Side Profile

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

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 1895

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).

Beach 1890s

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! 🙂

 



At The Sea Shore…

We’re almost in August and we thought we’d post some pictures of people at the seashore in the 1880s…

Beach

The Montgomery family, all dressed up and preparing to pose by the shoreline of beach at Stokemus, near Sea Bright, August 8, 1886

The above picture is interesting in that here you see a variety of common styles to include vest/faux, open bodice with faux waist, and closed bodice.. For skirts, all follow the bustle silhouette of the later 1880s but not in an extreme manner and each features some variation on the over/under-skirt configuration. The skirt on the woman in the middle with the parasol is the same color (seemingly from the picture) for both skirts and the under-skirt appears to the be ruffled in rows. The woman standing to the immediate rear of the little girl has a contrasting solid color over-skirt with a plaid check underskirt while the woman at the far right has a skirt and bodice made of the same material with no obvious under-skirt. It’s a very useful portrait for determining some common daytime styles that can be readily utilized for recreation purposes.

Coney Island 1885

Collecting Shells, Manhattan Beach, Coney Island, 1885 (New York Historical Society & Museum)

These two women are not deterred by the wet sand or water and have simply taken the expedient of hiking up their skirts. They’re a bit more plainly dressed than the group in the first picture with bodice and skirt of the same color. The woman on the left also appears to be wearing a short coat or jacket that has been designed to fit around the bustled skirt.

And just for contrast, something a bit more upmarket, staged in the photographer’s studio…

Portrait_Seaside c. 1885

The above picture portrays a more elaborate style although it still keeps to the convention of the bustled over/under-skirt combination typical of the later 1880s. In this instance, the bodice appears to drape over the hips and is gathered towards the rear and has a floral print design. Of course, with the woman’s elbow obscuring the waist, it’s hard to tell exactly but judging from the swags of net trimmed in fabric running along the skirt, it appears that the net is the over-skirt with a solid-colored fabric under-skirt. The effect is airy and very appropriate for summer by the beach. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse of 1880s style at the sea shore. 🙂



Some More From Pingat…

Lately, it seems that Emile Pingat has become the subject of interest for us here at Lily Absinthe and combined with our love for 1890s fashions in general, we’ve been finding all manner of Pingat’s designs. For today’s consideration is this circa 1894 ball gown:

Pingat, Ball Gown, c. 1894; Museum of Fine Arts Boston (56.816)

Rear View

As ball gowns go, this is a relatively simple design with a minimum of trim (mostly beading on the front bodice), relying instead on combinations of lace, and silk satin to achieve its effect.  With roses strategically placed on the skirt front, collar and shoulder, there are pops of color that offset the blush pink/ivory silk satin. The gigot sleeves combined with gored skirt definitely place this dress safely in the mid-1890s and create the classic hourglass style that was typical of the period. Overall, as with many of Pingat’s designs, this is elegant and clean and would definitely make an excellent bridal gown. Although best known for his outerwear, Pingat also produced many elegant dress designs- ball gowns, evening/reception dresses and day dresses and this is just one excellent example.