The History of Victorian Swimwear

Early and Mid-Victorian Swimwear

If you’ve ever seen pictures of these bathing suits, you know that they looked much more like business suits than bathing suits. They were typically tailored from flannel materials. The tops were essentially jackets, while the bottoms were three-quarter trousers (what one might refer to as “high-waters”).

The development of Victorian swimwear was necessitated by the development of the British rail system, which allowed the masses to visit the beach for vacations and day trips. Victorian bathing suits were by no means the first iteration of swimwear, but they provided a “fashionable” option for those who could afford it.

It wasn’t until after the Great War of 1914-1918 when Victorian swimwear was adopted in full. Prior to this it was considered unladylike to wear trousers. The war required women to wear trousers out of a need for practicality.

Interestingly enough, the design trends of the early 1920’s were rejected just a decade prior when Amelia Bloomer had urged their adoption.

Late Victorian Swimwear

There were little changes in Victorian swimwear between the 1860’s and the 1890’s. The most one could accept in differing styles was short sleeves, no sleeves, and eventually trousers that showed the ankles.
In time, these options would become standard and continue to show more and more skin. One can easily see how they would eventually evolve into what we know to be the common bathing suits of today.

Why Did Victorian Swimwear Look the Way it Did?

Modesty was all the rage up until the early 1900’s. Swimwear took all of its cues and inspiration from fashion trends popular at the time. Today, we find the styles to be almost comical. Many individuals look for Victorian bathing suits for reenactment purposes or for vintage Halloween costumes.

Of course, one could barely expect the modest attitudes of the time to develop and use anything resembling what we currently think of as a bathing suit. Victorian swimwear was exactly what people expected in that era, and was reminiscent of the evening and daily wear popular at that time.

With the rise of the rail system and easy access to beaches many individuals had no choice but to purchase what was available to them, and that was what you recognize as Victorian era swimwear.

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