Some of you may have celebrated the fourth of July in your bathing suits, at the ocean.
What a wonderful place that makes to view fireworks. It doesn’t matter where you were, just so you remembered to be thankful for July 4, which we’ve been celebrating for 238 years. That’s when the Declaration of Independence.was signed. That day marked the beginning of the liberty we enjoy to this day.
With that subject off my mind, let’s continue our thoughts on bathing suits. There is quite a history of bathing and the suits people have worn in the past. In the 18th century it was considered proper to keep the skin white and untouched by the sun. A 1797 print shows women completely dressed, faces shielded by bonnets and weights sewn in the hem of their bathing gowns to prevent the garment from floating up and exposing their legs. Under these gowns were often trousers. Scarves were around the neck and gloves covered the hands. The material was heavy, usually wool.
Things improved slightly, because in the 19th century bathing dresses were worn over long bloomers, were not made from wool, but from heavy flannel. Some of you may think that wasn’t much of an improvement. This was followed by black wool dresses worn with stockings, bathing slippers and caps. Fancy beach shoes were in then, some lacing up to the knees..
By 1910, less fabric was used and a little more of a woman’s figure showed to allow
exposure to the sun. 1915 and women began to do more in the water than just jumping in the waves. They actually joined men in the sport of swimming, thus reducing the amount of heavy fabric used. We’re already up to the 1920’s and featured were one piece garments with long tops that covered shorts and matching long stockings. Flesh was exposed from the bottom of the trunks to the top of the stockings, and you all know where it went from there. The day has arrived when nothing is left to our imagination and modesty is nowhere in the picture.
In the 19th century, however, the modest woman followed a sea-side etiquette. I
read where some of them, dressed in drawers would plunge off small boats that anchored along the front of the beach, all this so men would not see them. But what about the women on shore? That’s when the bathing machines came into play. If you haven’t heard of these machines, you are not alone. I just learned of them as I researched this Shirl and You.
Picture this, boxes on wheels, about six feet in length and width, and about eight feet high. The bathing machine had a
door behind and in front. The woman bather would enter the back door, by a step ladder, and find inside a damp flannel gown and two towels, one unglazed opening, no mirror and no fresh-water. The bathing machine was wheeled or slid down into the water, sometimes with a pair of horses with a driver and others by human power. Here the lady would disrobe and change into her bathing dress. The bathing machine was then lowered to the edge of the water while being rolled over rough pebbles. She would enter the water by the steps at the front entrance and an attendant would encircle the bather’s waist with a strong cord,which would be attached to the bathing machine. After splashing for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, all the while trying to dodge violent waves, she would be returned to the shore and her sea-side experience would be completed, and so would her goal of not being seen by men.
Although the bathing machines remained active on English and German beaches until the
1890’s (also in the United States.) it was then that they began to be parked on the beach and were used as stationary changing rooms. Most of them had disappeared by 1914, but they did survive to this day as bathing boxes in many parts of the world.
Well, that was quite a journey for this edition of Shirl and You. Down through the years, our sea-side experiences have certainly changed and although we would not want to see our liberties removed, wouldn’t a bit of modesty still be good for everyone? I’m hoping to hear your opinion on this subject and on the others touched on in this post of Shirl and You. Don’t miss the following photos. There is even one of me in an early bathing suit.