Friday, June 26, 2009

Bathing Beauties

Summer is officially here, and, for many of us, that means time at the beach or around the municipal pool. Laying around in bathing suits and eying the opposite sex is as much part of the fun as actually cooling down in the water. Nineteenth century young folks flocked to water too, and for not-too-different reasons.

For one thing, bathing in salt water was supposed to be good for you. You’d pay a fellow with a specially designed cart covered in canvas to drive you out into the gentle surf. Inside you could change into your bathing costume, then dunk yourself in the water, safely hidden inside your little canvas tent.

If you look at some of the earliest costumes like these, you can see they aren’t much different from day dress. In fact, the caption on the one above reads “Evening promenade or sea bathing costume.” Later the bathing suits began to differentiate themselves from daily wear. For girls, they generally consisted of a short dress of cotton or flannel and flannel bloomers. Boys wore flannel one-piece units that looked a bit like long underwear. And forget any spandex. These babies sagged and bagged and dragged when they got wet. So there might have been some use to those private carts after all.

Of course, the main reason for seaside entertainment was to meet other young people. Many of the seaside towns hosted assemblies in the evenings, and the visiting families would throw balls or card parties or host picnics or teas. So if your Great-Aunt Ermintrude decided it absolutely necessary to treat her gout with a dip in the sea, why of course you’d accompany her for the chance to have a little fun too!

And speaking of fun, don’t forget to take a guess at Marissa’s mystery object in the post below. Correct guesses will be entered in a drawing for an autographed review copy of her upcoming release, Betraying Season, as well as a nifty tote bag that you can take with you to, um, the beach!


QNPoohBear said...

I prefer those bathing costumes to our own skimpy spandex versions. My bathing beauty looks quite comfortable in her bathing costume.

Regina Scott said...

Very cute, QNPoohBear! Love the hat!

Christina Farley said...

I love looking at the pictures. What a difference between then and now!

But I bet they didn't have to lather up the sunscreen like we do with all the bare skin.

QNPoohBear said...

Miss Samantha Parkington says thank you to Mrs. Scott for the compliments. While she is a young lady of the early 20th century, she has seen photos and images of young ladies of the previous century wearing bathing costumes much like hers. The little pamphlet that came with it from American Girl says it is made from cotton and many bathing costumes were made from wool, which does NOT sound comfortable! I think her stockings are supposed to be wool though they are actually made from heavy ribbed cotton. The shoes are canvas.