Surf and Sand

Ah, warm and sunny days! Time to flock to the beach and seek relief from the heat! Let’s take a peek at what time in the surf and sand looked like in the past.

Victorian bathing suits were made from wool, taffeta, or mohair to prevent chilling, repel water, and conceal the body’s outline. Men’s suits featured long shorts and short sleeved tops. By the 1910s, sleeveless tops were becoming more common for men.

Typical of the time period was to rent bathing suits from public bathhouses and hotels. 

Scroll through the photos below to view beach fashion in action!:

  • Photo #1: A Victorian era late 1800s to early 1900s two-piece women's bathing suit from our collection made in England but typical of the time period for Europe and the United States. The small skirt waist points to a petite young woman, someone who habitually wore corsets, or both. It has a baggy look at the rear of the suit which indicates the use of a bustle – a padded undergarment used to add fullness to the back of women's dresses in the mid-to-late 1800s.
  • Photo #2: These 1918 Clearwater Beach bathers wear suits with other features characteristic of the era. Women typically dressed in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, often featuring a sailor collar, worn over bloomers trimmed with ribbons and bows. The bathing suit was accessorized with long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and sometimes fancy caps.
  • Photo #3: Women didn’t usually actually swim at public beaches until after the 1920s. Instead, they held onto a rope anchored to a buoy and jumped in the waves. Perhaps this was due to the burdensome bathing suits women wore!
  • Photo #4: This 1924 photo of Pass-a-Grille beach goers already shows some style progression starting to occur.
  • Photo #5: It was around 1910 that bathing costume fashion started to change dramatically for women. This may be due to the actions of Annette Kellerman, the Australian swimmer who held all the world records for women’s swimming in 1905. In 1907 on Revere Beach in Boston, Annette Kellerman was arrested for indecency for wearing a swimsuit showing her bare legs. Because she was there to train, the judge let her wear her swimming suit on condition she wore a full-length cape right up to the water’s edge. In a 1956 feature, The Boston Globe credited Kellerman with liberating seaside fashion: “In a few short years the Annette Kellerman one-piece bathing suit was the accepted female attire for beach and pool, a symbol of new freedom for women.”
  • Photo #6: Though Clearwater Beach continues to be a popular swim spot, the style of swim attire sure has changed since this 1921 photo was taken!