Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Bathing Machine

I’m on vacation in Puerto Rico this week, a working vacation – seriously! I am writing! 20 poages so far! Still, I thought I’d share a short cultural history of the beach while I’m enjoying the 80 degree sun and hiding from the cold winter the Northeast is experiencing.

You may now throw tomatoes at me, I’m ready.

Victorian beach goers typically wore a bathing costume that covered far, far more than it revealed, yet the outfit was still considered immodest. They exposed their legs, after all. I can only laugh at the image of a proper Victorian seeing a modern beach filled with skimpily clad people baking under the hot sun.

While researching the costumes, I came across the Bathing Machine, which I’d always heard of but never really understood what it did. I mean sure, they had to change someplace, but would they call it a machine?

Er, no, not exactly.

The picture is c1829 but not much changed between then and a century later.

I’m sweaty just looking at those outfits! Nothing refreshing about them.

In fact a Bathing Machine was a carriage you could stand up in. You entered it as you would a carriage, but then changed within its confines. Their clothing was stored high up to avoid getting wet, because it was then rolled into the water. I mean that quite seriously, since traipsing about the beach in your costume was scandalous.

So was traipsing about with a member of the opposite sex, since men and women enjoyed the ocean is separate areas. Hence the need for the machine, I guess, even though if they really were in different parts of the beach, you’d think it wouldn’t matter. Apparently, it did. This practice was mostly in Britain and her colonies, but popular in other Western countries as well.

By the 1920s the Bathing Machine was extinct, since frolicking in the water with your husband or wife - or, heaven forbid, a suitor - was more socially acceptable.,6051,126381,00.html


Nicole McCaffrey said...

Great blog, Christine! I love it when I learn something new, LOL. Never heard of a bathing machine, but... I don't think I want to be in one any time soon!

No, those bathing suits don't look very comfortable but I guess when you were used to wearing many more layers, it felt pretty good to shed some.

What a hoot!

Sarita Leone said...

Who knew? I'd never heard of a bathing machine before. I love this post, and the picture is enough to bring a giggle! Thanks for teaching me something new. :)

Susan Macatee said...

I never heard of a bathing machine either, Christine!

Guess you learn something new every day. But I do know they wore more layers of underwear than all our clothes put together in warmer weather.

Anonymous said...

I'd have sufficated and I love the warm weather! I love the fashions, too, but don't think I'd enjoy wearing them for longer than a single ball.

When did long distance swimming become, well, popular? Or really begin I guess is the question. I'd think after beach fashion changed enough to prevent them from drowning, but does anyone know?

Marlene said...

I remember seeing the bathing machine in the movie Mrs. Brown. I had no idea this is what it was called and thought only the queen would have the privilege. Sort of made me think of a gypsy wagon. At least they didn't have to step on the stones on their way into the water.
Now where do we throw those tomaotes?