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.