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Pass the Sunblock: 1905

On the Atlantic circa 1905. "An afternoon on the beach." Careful not to burn those elbows! 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

On the Atlantic circa 1905. "An afternoon on the beach." Careful not to burn those elbows! 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Edwardian Bathing

The ropes were used for "sea bathing" as something to hang onto in the surf. This was particularly needed by the women in their "bathing costumes."

While a surprising number of women did learn to at least paddle around in lakes, quiet rivers and pools, most I suspect were more than content to splash around in shallower water as serious swimming would be challenging in bathing dresses designed for modesty first and foremost.

I read with interest the fashion note about heavy silk swim dresses. While I have no doubt they were available for the more fashion conscious, well-do-to women, based on surviving examples, sturdy cotton seems to have been the most common fabric used for these dresses until the increasing popularity by the 1920s among young women of the more practical (and revealing) wool knit bathing suits. Some daring young women were wearing mid thigh versions of these form-fitting suits as early as "aughts," but they were rare because of their shock value at the time.


Next question: Would these suits have been rented? Would there be a great big Victorian Bath House standing there if we turned our heads, and would there be rows and rows of little lockers for changing? And would these young ladies have paid a nickel or a quarter what ever for the use of the suit?

[The Atlantic City pictures show several examples of the "bathing pavilions" that rented swimsuits and provided changing facilities. Balmer's Baths, for instance. - Dave]

Cookie Cutter Girls

Geez, I thought all the girls in the recent Miss Universe contest looked alike but apparently this has always been the trend. These five could be identical quintuplets.

Modes of the day

My wife, a collector of bathing and swimming apparel (1860-1960), advises me that these are suits are sturdy cotton of blue or black, not wool. She also suggests that if they were light colored and wet they would become "see through."

[Below, an amusing snippet from the New York Times of January 26, 1908. - Dave]

The fashionable bathing costume of the present day is of peau de soie or some soft fairly heavy silk made on a princesse model, with just a suggestion of an empire line at the back of the belt. A boned and fitted girdle of embroidered silk is covered with Irish, Cluny or applique lace -- preferably the former, which washes so satisfactorily. Long sleeves are considered absolutely necessary in a bathing suit -- a fairly wide shoulder puff with a deep-lined lace cuff meeting the puff just below the elbow makes a good pattern.

The skirt should come just below the knees and be plaited so as to flare out well all around. The bodice is finished with a shoulder cape of Irish lace or with a small square of round lace yoke. Bands of embroidery worked on the silk or plain stitched bands over the seams are to be seen. The waist, in fact, is on a rather severe model, but it is not unlike a plain silk shirt waist.

It is the hat, however, which makes the present style of bathing suit a really becoming costume instead of a dress which there is little use in trying to make attractive ...

Fairly heavy silk stockings are smartest with a bathing suit, but this is a piece of extravagance out of keeping with the average pocketbook, and fine lisle thread hose are quite permissible.

Black, as giving the best wear, is the most popular color for a bathing dress, but deep blues and greens, bright reds, and even golden browns and rich dark purples, all look well when they are becoming.

Soft kid slippers tied on with satin ribbon are worn by many who find walking in stockings without heels disagreeable. Bathing gloves have not as yet been introduced.

The Ropes

I live in the desert, so I don't know from oceans, so can someone please tell me if they still rope off sections of beach like that? Was that a safety feature?

Looks a lot like ...

Sandy Dunkin'.

Familiar Faces

In the movie, the girl on the left will be played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the one on the right by Anne Ramsay.


Be still my beating heart.

Aloe Sailor!

There must have been plenty of farmers tans in those days.


These Gibson Girls give new meaning to the phrase "wet bathing suit contest."

Sink or Swim

Those getups can't actually be for swimming. I guess their main purpose is tan mitigation. The color selection brings Henry Ford to mind.

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