Bathing suit

Date: 1870s

Culture: American

Medium: wool

Credit Line: Gift of The New York Historical Society, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.346.18a, b


The 1860s and 1870s saw the revival of a number of historical periods in dress. Classical references were apparent in the appearance of laurel swags, wave meanders, and Greek-key bands on such categories of apparel as children's dresses, men's smoking ensembles, and dressing gowns, and on all forms of womenswear and accessories. In the bathing costume shown here, the connection to the natural and healthful life of "sport" associated with the ancient Greeks is especially apt. Of course, the wool cloth, heavy and hardly buoyant when wet, was not appropriate for vigorous water sports. Rather it was meant for what was considered the more feminine activity of "bathing," a simple immersion that allowed for some bobbing or a few strokes without any real possibility of sustained swimming.