The Victorian Beach
As water is rediscovered in Europe by the upper class in the Victorian era the fashions of the street are brought to the beach. Dressing for the beach circa 1850 is not unlike dressing for church; indeed, bathing dresses will follow the silhouette of street clothes for many years.
The first of these silhouettes is the bathing dress longsleeved bustled, and although it may be a misnomer to call this a bathing dress, it is a costume that will be commonplace on the beach for the balance of the century. This longsleeved, full-skirted dress worn with hose and shoes is not unlike what might be worn in high society affairs (AB188610). It is a multi-layered, wool garment worn with petticoats and corseting underneath, if not the trademark period bustle to exaggerate the shape of the buttocks. Sometimes the dress is colored a dark blue, but white and bright colors are also popular. Hose, shoes, and a hat are *mandatory* accessories.
This heavy, uncomfortable garment is dangerous and of questionable utility for swimming, but it does meet the standards of Victorian morality. More typically it is worn on the beach, a parasol in hand to help shield one from the sun and keep the only exposed skin--the face and the hands--from getting tanned.
The layered nature of the garment is an important indicator to watch for the future; after the hands and the face the least bare zone is the ankle; a hot spot, for it is only covered with hose. The nature of swimming requires a reduction of layers--working inside out, as well as a reduction in coverage. Both of these issues will be addressed during the late Victorian era.