SEA-BATHING A LA MODE
The Interior of a Lady’s Bathhouse at Long Island.
As we all know, decorous Britishers of both sexes refuse to frolic in the big sea informally and in jovial fellowship as do the unconventional American “brethren and sisteren.” Mr. and Mrs. John Bull or the Misses Bull have little movable rooms, inside of which are the conveniences we enjoy in our seaside bathhouses, says Demorest for September. The rooms are on wheels. Enter Mrs. John Bull with a bathing-suit and a number of towels on her arm; a little pony is hitched, by primitive harness to the room, and when Mrs. J. B. gives a sign at the window of her queer little house the pony is driven down to the beach, even out into the water as far as he can go, is unhitched and trotted back to the shore. Out then, by the back door of her little room, comes Mrs. John Bull, arrayed for the sea, into which she hops and, so long as she wishes, enjoys a dip. The bath over she enters her wheeled room, the pony is sent down and hitched on, and the protean mermaid inside is brought back to terra firma. When the public seen her again she is clothed in the common garb of civilization.
Now this whole idea so pleased a friend of the Van Kortlandts, who went abroad for the first time last summer, that on settling down in her Long Island home she quite made up her mind to have a bathing-machine like those at Brighton. She had a little gable-roofed box built about 5 by 5 feet and at least 8 feet from floor to roof. Outside it is painted a clear sea green and it is swung on two big black wheels. There is a window in the roof and a door and pair of steps at the back.
Inside, madam’s imagination has worked wonders that would make Mrs. John Bull turn green with envy. The interior is all done in snow-white enamel paint, and one-half of the floor is pierced with many holes, to allow of free drainage form wet flannels. The other half of the little room is covered with a pretty green Japanese rug. In one corner is a big-mouthed green silk bag lined with rubber. Into this the wet bathing-togs are tossed out of the way. There are large bevel-edged mirrors let into either side of the room, and below one juts out a toilet shelf, on which is every appliance. There are pegs for towels and the bathrobe, and fixed in one corner is a little square seat that when turned up reveals a locker where clean towels, soap, perfumery, etc. are stowed. Ruffles of white muslin trimmed with lace and narrow green ribbons decorate every available space. When the mistress steps out of this bathing machine her maid dries and airs it, then ‘tis securely locked and wheeled high and dry behind the humble bathhouse of ye vulgar American.
The Morning Call [San Francisco, CA] 3 September 1893: p. 11
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Ah yes, “the maid dries and airs” the bathing machine. Mrs Daffodil shudders at those “ruffles of white muslin” decorating every available space. The lace and ribbonry required hand-washing and goffering and a heavy starch to keep them from going limp in the sea-breezes. A delightful effect, but scarcely a sea-side holiday.
Charming as is the description of the white-and-green bathing machine, Mrs Daffodil suggests that it exists primarily in fantasy. The reality is below:
We consider the essentials of a watering-place may be alliteratively summed up thus:— Sea, salt, sun, sand, shrimps, shells, sailors, and shingle…
A bathing-machine is an aquatic caravan, containing respectively two towels, two ricketty hat-pegs, a damp flooring, a strong smell of sea-weed, and a broken looking-glass, exhibiting the phenomena of oblique refraction. Though this last cannot be exactly considered the “glass of fashion,” it frequently exhibits the “mould of form” about to have a dip.
The Traveller’s Miscellany and Magazine of Entertainment, 1847
This post was originally published in 2013.
A story of a bathhouse scandal is found in The Bathing Machine Mystery part 1 and part 2. And the inside story of The Great Grampus Bath-House Tragedy is found here.
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.