During the early 1900s, people flocked to
oceanside beaches for popular seaside activities
as swimming, surf bathing, and diving. The only
activity for women in the ocean involved jumping
through the waves while holding onto a rope
attached to an off-shore buoy. Their clumsy
Victorian and Edwardian style bathing suits
were often quite burdensome. Women typically
dressed in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve
wool dresses, often featuring a sailor collar,
and worn over bloomers trimmed with
ribbons and bows. The bathing suit was
accessorized with long black
stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy
Image: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ggbain-01346
varieties of style and color in
turn-of-the-century bathing suits. The more
conservative women stuck to the plain black
taffeta or mohair bathing suit with just a
slight touch of color about the collar and belt.
These were not as attractive as the bright
colored or striped bathing suits seen at the
more fashionable sea-shore resorts.
Patterns for bathing costumes were offered in the 1903 issue of The Delineator. The magazine also recommended accessories for the beach. A fancy handkerchief or cap could be worn over an oil-silk cap to make a pretty headdress while bathing slippers or sandals with cork soles were beneficial for walking on the hot sand. These were worn with stockings in plain colors, preferably black.
RIGHT: An association of contrasting colors is suggested in this style bathing suit. The pattern included a shirt-blouse and knickerbockers in one, and a straight, full skirt. The blouse had a vest shield and offered a choice of a deep sailor or plain or scalloped shawl collar. The bathing suit could also be made with a high or open neck and full, three-quarter or puff sleeves.
LEFT: The feature of this bathing costume is the shield in the blouse. The collar is the deep sailor style and the four-gored skirt can be either tucked or gathered.
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Bathing Suit Mugs
main lines in a bathing suit changed little from year to
year, the style of trimming and material of the suit varied
with succeeding summers. The same basic model was used as a
foundation for various styles of ornamentation. Most
bathing suit patterns included a blouse, knickerbockers, and
skirt. The most used material was mohair although silk
taffetas were also popular. A good quality mohair would be
chosen and shrunk before it was cut. Typically about 9 yards
of fabric was required to complete the outfit. The
trimming, if it was wool or mohair, was shrunk also to avoid
puckering. Bias folds of a contrasting mohair or serge, or
hercules braid were commonly used for the trimming. A bias
striped trimming was particularly effective.
LEFT: This 1904 black mohair
bathing suit features short puff sleeves and an ivory white
collar bordered with polka-dotted white mohair. A broad band
of the polka dot material encircles the lower edge of the
In 1906, The Ladies’ Home Journal describes one
charming bathing costume of black and white striped
taffetas, each stripe being about an inch-and-a-half in
width. The rolling collar, belt and bands on the short
puffed sleeves were of plain black taffetas. The
handkerchief was tied above the forehead in a smart knot
with ends of the same silk. Black silk stockings and black
leather sandals laced with white silk cord completed this
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Another costume in the same
style featured lilac taffetas,
with black taffetas trimmings and was worn with a lilac silk
bandanna polka-dotted with small black dots. The stockings
were of plain lilac silk, and the sandals were black leather
laced with lilac cord.
lmage: Library of Congress
The magazine also featured a
white mohair bathing suit made with a Russian blouse effect
that had a light blue silk trimming down the front, the
belt, buttons and bandanna. White silk stockings and white
leather sandals completed this dainty costume, which was
especially designed for a young wearer.
Among the many other costumes
was one of sea green silk. The sailor collar, stockings,
sandals and belt were of green, one shade darker in color. The bandanna was of the same color of green, with a border
of medium-sized polka dots in white. The effect was a
delightfully cool one, for the suit looked like a bit of the
sea tipped with foam.
Shown is a 1904 stylish
bathing suit of red flannel serge with a white sailor
collar, girdle and sleevebands edged in blue silk tape.
Another 1904 suit features a
wide stitched girdle to which the blouse and skirt parts are
attached. The girdle holds the suit well in place while it
gives perfect freedom to the body in swimming. It is lined
with a firm muslin and stitched through and through. A
quality mohair is used and shrunk before it is cut.
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Long bathing coats were also popular at the seashore
resorts. These coats were generally worn from the bathhouse
to the water's edge, and were put on again when leaving the
water. A great many women carried these coats over their
arm when going to bath and put them on immediately after
leaving the water. The Ladies’ Home Journal highlighted a bathing coat of light gray silk and made like
a large circular cape. The border down the front and around
the bottom of the coat was of dull blue silk, with a design
of small shells done in coral pink. The two long slits for
the hands were bordered with the same trimming, and the coat
fastened down the front with large buttons covered with the
gray silk. Another coat in brilliant blue was featured with
long sleeves and three full capes. The sleeves, capes and
bottom of the coat had a border of cream colored embroidery
about an inch wide with dull blue and gold flowers worked in
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Most fashion magazines
suggested an open collar design for suits, but for actual
practical use many women preferred to wear a shield and a
ribbon around the throat or a high neck on her swimsuit. If
not, when the wearer donned an evening gown it would be
quite apparent that she had worn a low collar at the beach.
The neck would be tanned in a distinct point outlining the
pattern of her swim wear. A solution to disguise the tanning
line was to wear a band of black velvet or a jeweled collar
with her gown.
As more women flocked to the
beach, a need for a new costume that retained modesty but
was free enough to allow the young lady to engage in
swimming was obvious. By the early 1920s, the fashionable
bathing suit was reduced to a one piece garment with a long
top that covered shorts.