Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Evolution of Women’s Swimwear

 By Barbara Goss

As the summer heat hits full blast, people everywhere are flocking to the water. While the tendency to hit the waves when the going gets hot is not unique to a given time period or people, but what we wear (or don’t) certainly is. From full-on dresses to itsy-bitsy bikinis, plus weird contraptions called bathing machines, you’ll love this history of women’s swimwear.

1858 Bathing Outfit

In the 19thcentury, the times called for swimsuits that more closely resembled a belted dress over long bloomers.  While they weren’t aesthetically appealing, the swimwear fulfilled the primary purpose to conceal the woman’s body. For that reason, the top portion of the swimsuit hung low like a dress to hide the woman’s figure. These suits were made from heavy flannel fabric that was both opaque and sturdy enough to not rise with the water. 

19thcentury women also had the luxury of using a bathing machine. These small, wheeled structures were dragged into the shallow waters so a Victorian lady could prance around the ocean in complete privacy.

My genre is the West in the 19thcentury and I found this fascinating, and used it in The Marshall’s Mission (WIP).  In my book the improvised and used flannel nightgowns with lead sewed in the hems.

In the West, in the 19thcentury women wore a bathing gown in the water. These were loose ankle-length full-sleeve chemise-type gown made of wool or flannel, so that modesty or decency wasn’t threatened.  They were long dresses of fabrics that would not become transparent when wet, with weights sewn into the hems so that they would not rise up in the water.  

1940's Beach Police

Swimming wear has come a L O N G way to today.


  1. So much for going in the water for me back then. Oh my, I don't know how they did it. (Smile) Doris