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Jersey Shore: 1904

The Jersey Shore circa 1904. "Steeplechase Pier and bathers, Atlantic City." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

The Jersey Shore circa 1904. "Steeplechase Pier and bathers, Atlantic City." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Thanks, Tobacconist!

Actually, I WAS wondering if they wore corsets under their bathing costumes! Some of the shapes really look like it. It makes a lot of sense that most of the suits would have been blue too, especially Navy-blue, since that is associated with the ocean. I think it would be very uncomfortable to wear so much clothing in the water, but I guess it wouldn't be too bad if it wasn't heavy fabric. I'll bet it was fairly heavy, though, especially the rented suits, to be able to hold up to a lot of use.

Water Wings & Swimsuits

I have an old pair of water wings that are a more teardrop shaped that are made of rubber lined white canvas. I doubt they would keep an adult afloat on their own, at best only offering a bit of help for a weak swimmer or one just learning.

Thanks to Tobacconist for the great commentary and illustrations on vintage swim wear. My research confirms his/hers regarding color preferences during the heyday "skirts and bloomers" era of women's swim wear (roughly the 1850s through the 1910s, or 1920s for the most modest). I suspect the popularity of dark blue was because of the nautical associations that show up almost universally in the trim on women's suits (white trimmed sailor collars, anchors, etc.) Also, dark colors remain opaque when wet. Very important to modesty to be sure!

-- Glenna Jo the swimsuit collector (using her husband's account to comment)

I found Waldo!

Hiding in plain sight, right up front.

Jersey Shore

Look at the crowds! More than on a holiday weekend today. No exposed skin anywhere on the beach.

Where are the lifeguards? Oh, they had none. Looks like it was "Swim at your own risk."

Up close and personal

Scan the surf line and count the number of men holding women (and women holding women). Probably one of the only socially acceptable times to touch or be close to the opposite sex in 1904 without chaperones.

A punch up

about to start next to the woman with the water wings!

Last of Victorian Modesty

What an event to actually see a man's underarms, a woman's thighs, the wet bodies that leave so little to the prudish to surmise ! I see that many of the men wear "letter" tops that belie the use of sportswear as swimming clothing & I also wonder if not that the rather ubiquitous floppy straw hats are also worn by men as much as by women. Experiences like these certainly pushed to old morals of the 19th Century right out of the average persons mind quickly. Ready to cakewalk & then tango right into the next fast-paced twenty years, after which even times like these would seen idyllic & far too contrived & controlled for any sincere fun seeker of the new century.


The straw hat vendor must have made a mint on that beach!

Bathing suit blues

Oh, for color film in 1904! Even though most of these suits were probably rented, I think we'd see many more dark blue bathing suits than black ones. Among the personally owned suits we'd also see some red, some dark gray, and occasionally a white one. Ads for suits mentioned solid colors along with navy blue or plain black, but the blue ones seemed to be the most popular.


Most of the surviving suits from the period now in museums are some shade of dark blue. Even patterns for homemade swimsuits available in the years before this picture was taken recommend more blue material than anything else. Looking at patterns for eleven different bathing suits spanning nearly twenty years, I found two that were for striped material (one red and white, and one not stated - see the woman closest to the camera at bottom center in the picture), one for white, one for red, and one for patterned material. The other six recommended:

1) Russian blue flannel, with ruffles of white embroidery and consists of drawers, blouse and cap. The cap was made of white oiled silk.

2) Dark blue flannel, trimmed with bands of white on which are lines of red soutache.

3) Navy blue flannel, with a white collar, vest and belt ornamented with feather stitching.

4) Either of dark blue serge or Alpaca, consists of short drawers buttoned to a blouse waist which has a vest and a collar of white serge trimmed with a black braid and a skirt.

5) Red or blue flannel and consists of drawers, blouse, vest and skirt.

6) Dark blue serge, bound with white worsted braid, and ornamented in chain stitch embroidery with white split zephyr worsted.

Even most of the reproductions made today are blue. Below are four surviving suits from museums or vintage clothing auctions, along with a reproduction (on the full-length mannequin).


And in case you were wondering - yes, they wore swimming corsets under their bathing suits too, which were smaller than their normal ones.



These folks sure saved money on laundry detergent -- and bar soap, too.

Then As Now

Too many people.

So many pee-ople

So little ocean.

Water Wings

In the center bottom a woman is holding .. donno .. water wings I suppose. Have to wonder what they were made of in 1904.

[Rubberized canvas. - Dave]


Just a dozen years more and to these waters (and Matawan Creek) will come a visitor that would be the primary inspiration for "Jaws" -- the Matawan Man-Eater.

Women's bathing suits on sale today!

Any color you want, as long as it's black.

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