The Bathing Corset: 1887-1897

 

 BATH CORSETS

New York, Aug. 21. Seashore millinery art has so far advanced that not only do bathing dresses cost as much as many a woman’s whole outfit, but special water-proof corsets are made and sold at such prices that it would take a sewing girl’s week’s wages to buy a single pair. The old loose flannel bathing dress was so awkward and hideous that no one thought of wearing of a corset with it. It was beyond beautifying. With the coming of pretty and neat bathing dresses that fitted the figure like a tailor made jacket, women began to see the need of something to make their waists and busts as shapely in the water as on shore. Modern bathing does not consist so much of actual contact with and immersion in the water as posing and fascinating on the sands. To do this well the figure must be trim and not floppy or bulgy….

It is hard to say what proportion of women wear corsets in the water—as they don’t tell, and the men who work around the bath-houses and the beaches are not exact guessers on such subjects. The average varies from Long Branch and Newport where more than half the fashionable female bathers wear some form or other of corset to preserve the figure, to Asbury Park and Coney Island, where a corset is hardly known in the water. At Asbury Park the excellent James Bradley, who runs the place, might even add one to his numerous rules posted along the beach that “ladies who are ladies will use no adventitious aids to beauty when in the water, such being in accord neither with decorum nor piety.” [Mr Bradley named his resort for the first Methodist bishop ordained in the United States and the resort was run on Temperance lines.]

It would seem as if the coming bathing corset would be made to rubber-covered wire. The next thing to form improvers for the bath will be to wear waterproof wigs and pads. A waterproof complexion has already been invented.

Kansas City [MO] Times 1 September 1887: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There was much debate about how to create a sea-water-proof corset: the usual steels and eyelets were quick to rust and silk and wool stretched with exposure to water and sun. Cork offered one solution:

Bathing corsets to keep fleshy figures from wobbling in the undress of a flannel suit have cork busks and buckled straps instead of steels to rust in salt water and are comfortable for other wear. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 19 June 1889: p. 4

Rubber offered another:

Very simple, but hygienic, are the lines of a bathing corset made of rubber sheeting. This material is not stiff but sheds water like a duck, and proved itself a comfort last season to many a plump mermaid who “did not feel comfortable without a corset.”… Oregonian [Portland, OR] 18 June 1916: p. 6

Of course, there were unexpected pros and cons to the wearing of bathing corsets at all, as we read in this anecdote.

As the story begins, two slender young women, one blonde, one brunette, have gone to a corset-maker to purchase corsets and have received some good advice from the young man at the shop:

“Now about the bathing corset,” reminded the straight-up-and-down girl. “I am the queerest looking duck in the water you ever saw. You see, we can’t fill out with fluffs and frills there, for bathing suits aren’t built that way. When I get on a bathing suit I look about three inches through.”
“I, too,” said the blonde, and the two looked at each other sympathetically.

“Now, here is the bathing corset for figures such as yours,” said the man, taking one from the case. “You see it is very, very short over the hips. In fact, it almost ends at the waist on the sides, which shows off what hip there is to the very best advantage. The bust is quite high, and has a good-sized spring in it, giving a beautiful full figure. There is nothing about the corset that water can rust.”

“But I don’t swim,” said the straight-up-and-down girl in a horrified tone, “and therefore it would be impossible for me to wear that corset in the water. It is grand for those bony, slim ladies who can swim—perfectly grand.”

“What has swimming or not swimming to do with wearing a corset which will give you a lovely figure?” asked the puzzled manufacturer.

The Brunette’s eyes began to twinkle and the dimples came and went about her mouth.

“Well, you see,” explained the complainant, with some hesitation, “when a lady can’t swim one of her gentlemen friends stays around to take care of her, and she simply could not let him when she had on one of those corsets with false hips and bust. Why, imagine her feelings when he picked her up to throw her on a breaker.”

“Imagine his,” ejaculated the blonde, with great feeling. “Hers would be mild compared to his. No, indeed, I’d advise a girl who does not swim to beware of that corset as she would of the plague. Now, as for me, I can swim like a killie fish, and I’m going to be measured for one right now.

“I half wish I had learned to swim,” mused the other. “A corset like that must make a lady look stunning. I was taking lessons, but a girl who is a fine swimmer advised me not to learn, for she said you could have ten times more fun in the water than if you could swim.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 26 July 1897: p. 5 

A shockingly candid point of view about what goes on at the sea-side. Youth now-a-days…

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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