Ladies in Wading: A Look at the Lengths Beachgoers Went to Cover Up

Today, baring skin at the beach is the norm – but that wasn’t always the case. Let’s rewind a century or so and observe the difference between wearing a cover-up and being told to cover up.

The History of Beach Cover-Ups

Victorian Bathing Machines
In Victorian England, beach etiquette was a big deal. If women wanted to swim, a contraption called a bathing machine was brought in. Basically, ladies would enter the portable bathhouse on dry land, change into their swimsuits (often a tunic/bloomer combo), then be wheeled out to sea. That way, not even an ankle was exposed to male onlookers.

Prohibition-Era Beach Censors
Imagine a time when alcohol was banned and swimsuits were supposed to skim the knee. Less than a century ago, officers – known as beach censors – actually combed shores (like Coney Island, NY) to arrest scantily clad swimmers. Those in question would be given the opportunity to either change or “tell it to the judge in the morning.” Which is the nice way of ordering people to either cover up or ship out.

By Jillian Hudon, Staff Writer

Want the lowdown on fabrics and more? Follow our What Are You (Really) Wearing? column.

Not a Member and like The (Style) Guide? You’ll love Rue La La. Join now.


May 23, 2014