The concept of bathing costume finds its origin in the 1800s when people visited famous seaside for various reasons like diving, swimming and surf bathing. The bathing costumes were designed in such a way so as to cover the entire body. The changes in the fashion of bathing costume were slow and gradual.
The women bathing suit in the initial few years of the Victorian era was basically a black dress up to knee length. The suits worn by women in the later years of the Victorian period were bulky were more practical and attractive than the earlier ones. Trousers despite being accepted as beachwear only were in vogue in the 1920s.
The sleeveless bathing costumes were a result of a gradual change in the fashion of bathing suits. During the 1700s and early 1800s, women wore long dresses or bathing gowns made of fabric that did not become transparent when wet.
Women were careful not to expose their skin to the sun and would go on the beach with a face-shading bonnet, shawl, and gloves. Often women would sew weights into the hem of the gowns to prevent their dress from floating up.
In the 1860s the long dresses were replaced by two-piece suits- one a gown from shoulder to the knees and a set of trousers with leggings reaching the ankle. In the 1900s the ideal woman had a separate outfit that was only used for bathing. During this time, bathing suits were a common trend and people were getting used to it. The women of this time knew how to keep their bodies covered.
There was a bathing machine which was actually a hut on wheels gave absolute privacy to the women who spent their entire day on the beach. By the 19th century, the women’s bathing suit had begun to shrink. In the 1920s the bathing suit no longer remained a gown. The Victorian skirts and bloomers were reduced to show more of the feminine figure. The first bikini appeared soon after World War II.
Compared to women, Victorian era men had a bit more freedom in their bathing dresses. They could wear long sleeveless woolen jerseys over knee length trousers. It was illegal in almost all the places for men to expose their chest. The bathing suit for men was either stripped or black. This was so that it will not be confused for their undergarment.