‘Bathing costumes have a combined duty – serviceableness and daintiness. How many girls know how to swim these days? Nearly all of them; in fact, the girl who cannot tumble about in the water is an exception these days.’ (San Francisco Call, 1902)
I love water and I love the Edwardian era: So I made an Edwardian bathing costume! 😀 I think Edwardian bathing suits are cute while still having a modern vibe so that you can still wear them as nautical summer dress today!
Edwardian Bathing Costume – Fabric & Trimming
For my Edwardian swimsuit I only used fabric and trim from my stash.
Most Edwardian bathing costumes were either made of wool or silk fabric. While cotton fabric was a less popular choice.
‘Black and dark blue wool is the best color’. (San Francisco Call, 1902)
But there were also bathing suits made of cotton fabric in the 1900s. For my Edwardian bathing dress I used blue cotton fabric from my stash.
‘Ladies’ two-piece bathing suit […] made from good quality blue cotton fabric, with sailor collar, blouse effect, with the collar and skirt trimmed with white braid.’ (Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1900s)
And because Edwardian bathing suits often had nautical trimming, like this 1900s blue bathing costume with white sailor collar, I used strips of white cotton fabric and black cotton rick rack ribbon to trim my Edwardian bathing suit.
Edwardian Bathing Costume – Sewing Details
My 1900s bathing costume is closed with buttons at the center front like this antique 1900s bathing suit at the MET museum. It also has knife pleats at the front which are stitched down at the shoulder and at the waist under the belt similar to this antique bathing suit at the MET museum. At the back, the fabric is just gathered below the yoke and sailor collar. And the belt is stitched down at the center back and is closed with one button at the center front.
‘The girdle holds the suit well in place while it gives perfect freedom to the body in swimming.’ (Bathing Suit, 1904)
Because 1900s bathing costumes often had sailor collars I also added a sailor collar:
‘Sailor collars have been and always will be just the right thing for the water. Even they vary slightly in style. One may be fastened snugly at the throat and be absolutely guiltless of ornamentation, while the next one may be V-shaped and a mass of applique work. Again it may be square or it may be circular; it may fasten over a vest and again it may be the only trimming the suit boasts of.’ (San Francisco Call, 1902)
Edwardian Two-Piece Bathing Suits
Edwardian bathing costumes were either made with the blouse and drawers in one part and a button-on skirt like this antique 1905 bathing suit at the MET museum, or the blouse and skirt in one part and separate drawers. My bathing costume is like a knee-length dress with the blouse and skirt in one part.
‘And speaking of skirts, whatever else you do, do not have them that ungainly, wretched length that makes of the prettiest girl a fright. Have it short – the shorter the better. Never below the knees, for then it loses that something which smart folks call chic.’ (San Francisco Call, 1902)
Edwardian Bathing Corsets
In the Edwardian era, bathing corsets were sometimes worn under bathing suits. Here at the MET museum is an antique ca. 1902 bathing corset.
Related: Edwardian Bathing Corsets
Some Edwardian women preferred to wear bathing corsets because Edwardian bathing suits didn’t shape the body like modern bathing suits. Edwardian bathing corsets were rust-proof, made without a metal busk and just lightly boned. However, I’m not wearing an Edwardian bathing corset in these pictures.
Related: Edwardian Unboned Sports Corset
‘After they [the bathing suits] are wet they cling and stick as closely as possible and the young lady who has not the figure of Venus feels rather shy at displaying all her defects so openly.’ (San Francisco Call, 1902)
Even though I don’t wear a bathing corset here, the belt and pleats of the bathing costume give the figure a fashionable Edwardian S-curve silhouette!
Edwardian Pompadour Hairstyle
Inspired by this cute antique 1900s black-and-white photograph of a woman with a similar bathing costume to mine – Atlantic city beach ca.1905 by William M. Vander Weyde – I put my hair into an Edwardian pompadour hairstyle.
DIY Edwardian Bathing Shoes & Stockings
For my Edwardian bathing costume I also made matching DIY Edwardian bathing shoes using the same blue cotton fabric that I used for the dress. Here’s a picture of a cute antique bathing shoes at the Met museum. Because antique bathing shoes never had leather soles, I used cork for the soles of my 1900s bathing shoes. I also added hand-sewn eyelets so that I can lace them up. The shoes are comfy to wear. But they’re a bit slippery on steep sand hills.
Legs were also never bare while bathing in the 1900s. Women wore stockings, usually dark wool stockings. Here I’m wearing black cotton stockings.
This lake where we took the photos was my favorite place. It was a nature reserve. But the lake is gone now! They destroyed the flora and fauna of this protected area and just turned it into a sand mining area! 🙁
7 thoughts on “Edwardian Bathing Costume”
That’s such a lovely bathing costume. And cotton is an excellent choice. I cannot for the life of me imagine going into the water with wool on. Won’t it get wet and sink you?
You did a wonderful job of recreating this piece!
Thank you! 😀
Wool was usually used for Victorian and Edwardian bathing suits because it’s supposed to be warmer than cotton when wet, wool fabric is a sturdy material and it’s easier to dye – especially dark colored cotton fabric bled color when wet and stained the skin. Woven wool also doesn’t reveal the figure as much as cotton when wet. An advertisement of a mohair bathing suit in the 1908 Sears & Roebuck Catalogue says it “sheds water well and does not cling to the figure” (source).
There are very soft and thin wool fabrics. I think cotton and wool bathing gowns are both very heavy when wet – but I haven’t tried it yet. I’m curious if it’s possible to swim in my Edwardian or 1920s bathing suit. Maybe I’ll try it later this year when it’s warmer! 😀
Good to know! Thanks for sharing all this info with me.
I really love your bathing outfit! It is so beautiful and becoming. I am so very tired of seeing women wearing outfits that are nothing but glorified underwear.
Where did you get the pattern for your bathing outfit?
Thank you! I drafted the pattern myself based on Edwardian bathing suits.
These bathing dresses are my favorite period of swimwear. They always look attractive and flattery. Your costume is beautiful!
Also, I love what you did to your hair.
What is the purpose for ladies to wear those black socks?
As for the question if someone can swim in these bathing dresses, yes you can. It’s a litte heavy but not too be bad that will cause someone to go under. Two videos prove:
Thanks, Edward! Most women, but not all, wore those wool stockings for warmth, for modesty reasons and out of habit (because their legs were always covered – even in summer).