The notion of organized ‘ocean bathing’ — actually going into the water for health, relaxation and enjoyment — was really a 19th century invention, first popularized in the United States during the 1830s at the Marine Pavilion on the Rockaway Peninsula.
For propriety’s sake, people would enter a bathing hut hitched to a horse and ride the container as it was backed into the water, exiting from the hut in their full-body swimming apparel only when safely immersed in the water. No risk of seeing wet fabric clinging seductively to the human form!
Fifty years later, bathers would dare walk to the beach sans horse-drawn hut. But their beach apparel still matched the modesty of their regular wear.
Here are a few examples of garments — for sunbathing, swimming or just relaxing — worn at some of New York’s most popular beaches of the late 19th-early 20th century.
7 replies on “The Bowery Boys New York City swimsuit edition, 1880-1920”
Great illustrations. Thanks for sharing. They must have gone through a lot of clothes back then. Cannot imagine having to wash the sand out of all that!
Beautiful photos and great blog by the way 🙂
Nothing like wearing a full suit to the beach!
I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these swimsuit styles will be adapted by the hipsters of today. Maybe I should start a line…Imma be rich.
must have had lots of drownings
I love these and I’ve never seen them. I perused some a few years ago at the Brooklyn Historical Society…live that bldg and library! These are great, too . To me the worst thing about these “swimming costumes” are the stockings women had to wear. Then of course the bathing suits I’ve read about were wool. Imagine being at the sandy beach in a wet woolen swimming costume with stockings on? Yet, they wore them and lived it! It was daring to show any amount of a female leg, even in stockings. These are terrific!
a few years ago down in cape may we saw a group of amish girls wading in the surf in their long dresses. also muslim women in the public pools in jersey city, fully garbed in the water, minding their kids. their girl wearing tights with their suits. a little glimpse of the past and present collide.