Dress for bathing began around the middle of the 19th century. By the late 1860s bathing dress was featured in the magazines every summer, but concerned parents kept their young daughters away from the public beaches because they were not segregated by sex. Some watering places had separate beach hours or locations for men and women, but gentlemen looked on at the women’s bathing area and women went to the men’s beach to gaze. This bathing outfit typical of 1876 is a combination dress and drawers. Navy blue wool serge was the most popular with red as a close second. Buttoning down the front, the tunic is worn with a belt. The neck is closed at the throat to prevent tanning, and it has a deep sailor collar trimmed with three rows of middy braid. Gathered just above the ankles, the trousers, are also trimmed with braid. The buttoned waist had safety ties, just in case you popped a button. No costume was complete without a complement of accessories. This hat and shoes might be out of place today, but in 1876 both were necessary for a trip to the seaside. The small sailor hat of straw and puffed wool is tied under the chin to keep it on in the sea breezes. The bathing shoes are also blue wool sewn to leather soles and buttoned up the legs. This suit made swimming a dangerous activity, since wool tends to become heavier when wet - about five times heavier. There is a mention of an inflatable preserver, but what it looked like is unknown.
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