We have previously written about the very popular invention of the Georgian bathing machines, so it’s time to take a look at what people wore to take a dip in the sea. It was in the Regency era that swimwear became really popular and very much a fashion item with the newspapers of the day advising potential bathers of what they ought to be wearing to be à la mode.
Clearly there was an issue with women sharing bathing wear and so a Mrs Bell of 26, Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury came up with new invention in 1814 by creating what she called the ‘Ladies Bathing Preserver’. Its aim was:
To relieve Ladies from the nauseous idea of wearing the bathing coverings furnished by the women at the sea-side, from which dangerous permanent illnesses have arisen, in consequence of their being worn by ALL KINDS of persons, however they be afflicted. Mrs Bell’s bathing preserver is made quite in a novel manner, to which is attached a cap, to be removed at pleasure, made of a delicate oil silk, the keep the head dry. The preserver is made of such light materials, that a lady may carry it in a tasteful oiled silk bag of the same size as an ordinary lady’s ridicule.
In her advert she told potential buyers that she also:
…sold her newly invented Circassian corset, bathing and sea-side walking dresses, which enable ladies to dress and undress themselves in three minutes, without any assistance, and prevents, so much recommended by physicians, the change of taking cold by too long delay in dressing.
The Circassian corset claim might have been a good marketing strategy because this type of corset had certainly been invented by the turn of the century, if not slightly earlier, so by the time Mrs Bell was advertising it, it wasn’t new!
The Circassian Corset is the only one which displays, without indelicacy, the shape of the bosom to the greatest possible advantage; gives a width to the chest which is equally conducive to health and elegance of appearance.
The Morning Post of 1st August 1815 tells its readers what they should be wearing for the month for seaside bathing:
Sea Side Bathing Dress: This very elegant dress is composed of the newly introduced Berlin silk. It is made in the form of a pelisse, and is so contrived that the stays, petticoat, and pelisse are all put on in a few moments. A flounce of green gauze, crape, or muslin, edged with an exceedingly pretty silk trimming, ornaments the dress; which, when on, is so finished and elegant that no one could suppose it was possible to adjust it in a few moments. A Leghorn hat ornamented with a plume of straw colour feathers, and green plaid leather boots, finish this dress, which we look upon as a chef d’oeuvre in its way, since, independent of the advantage which it is to a lady to be able to dress and undress so quickly, the most fastidious belle must confess that nothing can possibly be more becoming than this Sea Side Bathing Dress. The Wellington corset, with which it is worn, is admirably adapted to display in the most easy and graceful manner the natural proportions of the shape; and the tout ensemble of this elegant and useful habit is simple, tasteful and in the highest degree appropriate.
For anyone wondering, like us, what the Wellington corset was, then the Kentish Gazette, 6 September 1814 has the answer. It was designed specifically for women who were pregnant or who had had children as it would repress that fullness which some ladies find rather troublesome in the present style of dress.
The Liverpool Mercury, in 1830, carried the following description of a new invention to aid swimmers and non swimmers to float in the sea, by the Abbé de la Chapelle which he called a ‘Scaphander’.
It was a type of jacket of cork, composed of cork and fastened round the boy by means of leather thongs, which pass between the thighs and over the shoulders. That the body of the swimmer may be in equilibrium with an equal volume of water, a jacket of this kind ought to contain TEN POUNDS OF CORK. It is added that the inventor, with this cumbrous jacket on, could hold a bottle and glass in his hands when in the water (now this is just what I need!).