Men's and women's swimming clothes changed dramatically between 1850 and 1900 as swimming for recreation became increasingly popular. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries medical doctors aimed to cure a wide range of health problems through immersion in (or purging with) invigoratingly cold fresh sea-water, but this did not usually involve actual swimming. Bathing clothes, therefore, did not require much freedom of movement and women's costumes were restrictive, consisting of a tubular, ankle-length woollen dress with neck and arm openings. Women also wore voluminious drawstring bathing caps to protect their hair, rather like large fabric versions of the modern shower cap.
After the middle of the nineteenth century, swimming for exercise and enjoyment became an increasingly popular pastime, although men and women were invariably required to bathe separately for most of the nineteenth century. As seen in this print, for modesty, female bathers changed into swimming clothes in bathing machines, or huts on wheels, which could be drawn up to the water's edge for entering the sea.
Full item descriptions:
"bathing costume & swimsuit" [1947.2847]
"bathing costume & swimsuit" [1947.2842]
"bathing cap" [1947.2871]
"bathing cap" [1947.2872]