Victorian Bathing Machines and Swimwear

victorian swim suit

It wasn’t always easy to spend a day on the beach or lakeside, especially if you happened to be female. Until the Victorian era swimming really wasn’t something “respectable” people did or was only done at spas at the urging of a health practitioner. Medieval folks straight up thought water would kill you (with their limited knowledge of waterborne pathogens and disease control we can see how this concept would develop).

Victorian swimsuits were incredibly cumbersome and even dangerous once wet. They were more like woolly outer-garments worn over the same layers as ordinary clothing of the time. The image below depicts a typical women’s bathing costume of about 1870. Meant to conceal your shape and provide warmth in the water these heavy dresses were leagues away from the bikini’s of today! Obviously once this much wool gets wet you would sink quite quickly, so really not very useful for athletic swimming or anything other than wading about in the shallows.

18th century bathing costume

The Victorian era also saw the development of Bathing Machines. Essentially a wooden room on wheels, a respectable woman would enter the box in her street clothes and change into her equally modest bathing costume within- and then the box would be dragged to the water’s edge by horses. The bather could then exit the Bathing Machine via a set of stairs at the opposite end- sometimes with a canvas scrim to prevent being witnessed by others in a bathing costume (since a woman’s body is a really upsetting, destructive thing especially to see- sigh). She would take a quick swim/wade and then return to the room to change back, no lingering as it’s not like they walled off the womens’ side of the beach- you might still be viewed! It’s important to note men were not expected to use these contraptions or wear all these layers to the beach, at this time they could swim in drawers (a one piece shorts sort of swim-ensemble) or nude (until 1860 when it was made illegal on public beaches). Clearly male bodies aren’t as dangerous to public health and safety as a woman’s. 😉

victorian bathing machines

victorian bathing machines

Thankfully now women have more choices of what to wear to the beach and where to get changed for it. String bikini’s to full burkini’s there are ways to tailor your swim outfit to your beliefs and tastes. For us it was blending something antiquated with modern subculture styles!  Gloomth’s  “Eloise” swimset  is a fun blend of Victorian and Edwardian swim-ensembles with convenient modern elements, light cotton blend fabric and and elastic shorts make for an easy beach-side outfit that’s unique and charming. Just add a giant sun-hat or a parasol. 😉

victorian edwardian swimsuit


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.