The 1900s Victorian Bathing Suit

Victorian Bathing Suit
There were varieties of style and color in Victorian and turn-of-the-century bathing suits.


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 caps. 

Victorian Bathing Suit
Image: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ggbain-01346

There were 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.

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Victorian Bathing Suits
Image: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-100442-1898

Victorian Bathing Suits

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.

Victorian Bathing Suits
Image: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-74076

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Bathing Suit Mugs

  vintage bathing suits

Victorian Bathing SuitWhile the 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 skirt.

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 attractive costume.

Victorian Bathing Suit
Image: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-117915-1913

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.

Victorian Bathing Suits
lmage: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ggbain-01344

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.

bathing suit

Shown is a 1904 stylish bathing suit of red flannel serge with a white sailor collar, girdle and sleevebands edged in blue silk tape.

bathing suit

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.

Victorian Bathing Suits
Image: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-120028-1902

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 silk.


Victorian Bathing Suit
Image: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ggbain-01347


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.




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