Bathing Machines

I think that we can all agree that the Victorians did some pretty silly things. Hindsight is almost always 20/20, and I certianly hope that 150 years after our time has gone, people of the future will look back on our society as a whole and think we did and thought some pretty backwards things too.

One thing that the Victorians had that I found to be rather odd, but not particularly surprising, are these things called bathing machines. Say your a lady or gentleman of some refinement and sophistication during the Victorian era. It’s a lovely day out, so you decide that you’d like to go to the beach with a gaggle of your chums. But you certianly can’t let the members of the opposite sex see you in your bathing suit. That’s just crude and nasty (I guess?).

So to ease their woes, the Victorians created this vehicle called a bathing machine that they wheeled out on to the coast so that people could change into their respective swim wear and swim in what their society had defined as decent. Here’s a picture:

Blankenberghe, Baigneurs. Credit: The Library of Congress

The bathing machines are hanging out in the left side of the picture above. As a bonus, I really like this one:

Bathing machines, Ostend, Belgium. Credit: The Library of Congress

You can see eleven other photos of this strange swimming practice at The Big Foto, and learn more about the contraptions themselves here. Check it out, and be happy you don’t live during this era next time you head to the beach!

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3 comments on “Bathing Machines

  1. Larry says:

    Hmmm,good example of why Steampunk isn’t neo-Victorianism. This is something that would sure take the fun out of going to the beach.

  2. Kevin Mowrer says:

    Absolutely marvelous post! Loved seeing these dressing rooms on wheels. Really helpful for those of us constantly looking for textural and contextual material for writing. Thanks!

  3. It’s even odder than that. Before the 1840’s, people went skinny dipping, mostly because they were usually alone as ocean bathing had not yet become popular. By the 1860’s, women and men went to the beach at different hours, on different blocks of beach, and women sometimes only bobbed in the water in bathing machines. Women’s bathing dresses were ankle length with full-length pantaloons worn underneath. As always, men had it easier. They wore knit wool knee-shorts with tank-tops attached. Otherwise the shorts fell off when they got wet. Here in Cape May, we still celebrate the bizarreness of Victoriana.

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