Monday, July 16, 2012

Victorian-Era British Women at the Beach

The Bathing Hut 
by Charles James Lewis, British, 1830-1892

Read more about the bathing huts, pictured in the above painting, here.




Photos taken in 1906 showing women at the beach.  It must have been quite a windy day but they look thrilled to be there.  As I do like to sew, I was interested in the design of the back of their jackets, in the photo, above, and would certainly like to know the colors they were wearing.  Because of the lack of color photography, it is easy to believe that Victorian women either wore black, or white, but that is not the case. The clothing I've seen in museums is varied and vivid in color.

At a glance, it appears that the styles of this era were all alike, but closer observation will reveal that there was rarely any two ladies dressed exactly alike. I spite of the hundreds of Victorian houses built prior to 1906, it would be hard to find two exactly alike.

It seems that these ladies went to the beach for more than the summer sun. Many of them carried with them books, sketching paper, watercolors and writing tablets.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The colors of that era were beautiful. I took photos of and helped cataloged a lot of Victorian and Edwardian dresses that belonged to a friend's mother who was an avid collector restorer of dresses of the era.

The colors were beautiful such as dusty rose or mauve that was quite popular again in the 1980's, also sea foam green something like a silvery green. Off white, rose beige, creams, rose browns, merlot, French Navy blue, cadet blue, soft lavenders, deep reds. Colors that made skin tone look good and rich deep colors.

Trims and embellishments were lovely and well constructed (hand sewn) so that they may be taken off and used again on other garments.
Trims: laces,ribbon, braid, beads and fringe were used to make each garment just a little different that the next.

The information that I gleaned from the woman's daughter, outer garments weren't laundered that much. A clothes brush was used to take off dust and debris. Any spots were hand cleaned and dabbed dry.
Women wore many layers of under garments made of soft 100% cotton called batiste or lawn. Many layers of this soft fabric were used to absorb perspiration. These garments were laundered a lot so as to keep the outer garment clean and fresh.

Aprons and over frocks were worn to keep the outer garment clean when working or doing chores.

Mrs. J.

Homeschool on the Croft said...

Clearly they were more interested in protecting their skin from the sun than they were in 'getting a tan'. I wonder when that changed? When did it become the fashion to have a 'tan', when it used to be the sign of a 'common working woman'!
Great photos.

Anonymous said...

The information that I gleaned from the woman's daughter, outer garments weren't laundered that much. A clothes brush was used to take off dust and debris. Any spots were hand cleaned and dabbed dry.
Women wore many layers of under garments made of soft 100% cotton called batiste or lawn. Many layers of this soft fabric were used to absorb perspiration. These garments were laundered a lot so as to keep the outer garment clean and fresh.

Aprons and over frocks were worn to keep the outer garment clean when working or doing chores.

The dresses that I photographed were built up with layers of different fabrics in order to make them stiffer, warm, and durable. They were quite heavy.
Mrs. J.

JES said...

How interesting about the bathing machines! I have never heard of that!! How times change and so quickly that we don't realize how "far" we have gone… I think I will just take the cue of the latter women and bring some nice activities to do on the peaceful beach shores :)

Judith said...

What lovely pictures!! It intrigues me to see how modest they were in their dress back then. When I was a little girl, things weren't so modest, but at the beach there were rows and rows of square canvas tents with flat tops made out of striped canvas for changing. The remnant of the by-gone days.

Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos.

LadyLydia said...

Croft lady, I agree, there was more to life than showing a lot of skin. Victorians generally swam in private, so in public, they developed a way that they could get in and out of the ocean without having to walk around in their bathing suits. And there were lots of beach activities that had no focus on the bathing suit or on getting a tan.

Anonymous said...

Judith, the ones in bathing suits actually intended to swim or get in the water. Once out of the water, they changed in one of those little rooms and did some beachcombing, ate a packed lunch and enjoyed the summer weather. Today there is a big difference. One must be seen in bathers the entire time at the beach, even though they aren't going to actually get in the water.
Once they get a tan all over, they need to have very skimpy clothing in order to show off that tan back at the office.

LadyLydia said...

Mrs. J thanks for the description. I know the clothes, even though from neck to toe, were somehow cooler than they look. My Victorian outfit was very cool even with the crinoline slip and the corset and camisole underneath, which made quite a few layers. It was the hottest day of the year so far, yet I was more comfortable in that outfit than in every day clothes. It was all cotton and woven fabrics, mostly muslin.

Anonymous said...

I thought you looked so pretty and feminine in your white dress. You did a great job on it too.

I know women who like to make and wear modern outfits that have a Regency, Victorian or Edwardian look or feel to them.

I have another friend who likes to wear clothes with a Retro(40-50's) look or feel to them.

Mrs. J.

Anonymous said...

In one of your other posts you wrote about color and how it was used in seasonal changes or to mark a mood.
Indeed the Victorians did that same thing. It was a romantic era where feminine and masculine roles were well defined. They wore colors that made the skin color look healthy and vibrant. Also wearing bright colors to depict Spring time and Summer,patriotism, Spring Holidays, and happy occasions such as weddings and baptisms, birthdays,or deep broody colors to depict sadness, death, somber ceremonies or Holidays, and the seasonal changes of Autumn and Winter.

After WW1 and 2 the clothing changed from drab colors depicting hardship and sacrifice to bright and muted pastel colors as seen in the surviving quilts of the era to depict victory and an end to sadness and war.

It would be interesting to know what people are seeing in colors today and what they think fashion is depicting now.
Mrs. J.

Barb said...

Hi LadyLydia,
This era is so facinating and the clothes were beautiful.
I think going to the beach was more a health thing back then....taking in the sea air was recommended for all sorts of ailments.
I love the hats.
Have a good week
Barb from Australia

Anonymous said...

The one who we can all thank for the popularizing of the suntan was Chanel. she was a driving force in the fashions of the 1920's that emphasized boyish figures, exposure of the leg and bare arms etc more than happy to lead the revolution. Dress briefly re- attempted to return to modesty in the 30's, 50's and 80's, but would never be the same again. I've given plenty of links to good clothing and historic costume resources in previous posts so won't put the readership to sleep repeating myself... Cottons and linens - natural fibres - breathe wonderfully, as does wool. Synthetic fibres that are unsuitable for use in modest-wear breathe poorly and do not allow the body to throw off heat nearly as effectively as natural fibres (with the exception of silk). Additionally, with pre-20th century attire, sleeves were for the mostpart detatchable and as Mrs. J. has pointed out, appropriate undergarments were worn to absorb perspiration etc that could be easily laundered. Natural fabrics do not acrew odors nearly as readily as synthetic fabrics do.

Much to be thinking about. when the historians look back at the clothing of our age , I believe they will see a 'tyrany of drabness' made worse by a culture of exposure and excessive immodesty (unless their own sensibilities have become even more greatly degraded than those of our own time).

A wonderful post, Lydia, keep inspiring us!!

Anonymous said...

On the ocean side of the bathing hut, they wore swimming clothing and actually entered the water. On the other side, or the beach side of the bathing hut, they were fully dressed, although they may have worn special clothing designed for the beach. The bathing hut was for privacy

Anonymous said...

Mrs. J.'s question about design and color today: it seems to be dictated by a few designers who compete for the market. I believe though that you can get what is called quilting cotton fabric, which was in times past used for dresses, to make the kind of dresses that are not so garrish in design, and will not be "dated" in a few years.

LadyLydia said...

Mrs.J., Do you know of any period-patterns like the jackets on the women in the photograph?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do have the patterns you are seeking. I believe they are probably in your size too. They are reproductions of the originals. I would be glad to loan them to you.

The directions are somewhat difficult to understand as they are not "Simp., Mc, Butter. or Vog." However being the accomplished seamstress that you are I'm confident you can figure them out.

Would you like me to send photos of them email or would you like to have tea and go through them personally?

Mrs.J.

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