Victorian Bathing Suit, 2019
|This is a story about
the sometimes surprising consequences of weakened
I can't quite remember when and where the idea of a victorian bathing suit entered my brain, but I'm fairly certain that cinematic entertaintment is to blame. Next I remembered that my trusted "Fashions Of The Gilded Age"-book has among other marvellous things a few patterns for bathing suits. The third, fatal step was that I thought I might very possibly have some odd piece of flannel in my stash.
I took a better look at the patterns for curiosity, and the "Embroidered Bathing Suit" (page 145) from Harper's Bazaar 1882 appealed to me in its simplicity. I googled some more fashion illustrations and extant examples, and somehow managed to convince myself that making one would be just the quick and relaxing protect I needed after recently finishing the Tissot inspired day dress with all that kilting and accesorizing.
|Did I really need a
victorian bathing suit, or more accurately would I ever
have an occasion to wear one? Well, there was none
planned as yet, but then again this quick little thing
would not take so much time and money. If I used stash
materials it could even be a sensible choice.
I did eventually manage to excavate the flannel, a pretty baby blue, but I was a shorter length than I had imagined. I had already planned to combine some white flannel to make it do, but there was even less of that. I still thought I might just get something out of it, but luckily I had the good sense to take it into shower with me to see how it would look wet. The nice, lightweight, very soft flannel became a bit too transparent, so I abandoned the idea of using it on the spot.
|This little drawback
sort of took away my excuse of using stash material. On
the other hand I had found out in my quick internet
search that baby blue was not at all a typical color
choice for a bathing suit, and actually I had already
began to fancy a dark blue one with snappy white
stripes. So, at this point I was so absorbed in the
planning and had even began playing with the pattern
that I gave up and bought more fabric.
I found a reasonably priced navy blue cotton flannel and ordered it without a sample, reasoning that flannel is flannel and the navy tone wouldn't have to match anything. It turned out to be heavier than I thought and quite stiff, though it did soften a little bit when washed. Well, as I had bought it I would use it.
By the way, I'm well aware that wool flannel would have been an ideal and more period appropriate choice, but it would be much harder to find in a quality that would not tickle me and also exceed my budget.
|The rather classic
white tape trimming was inspired by several period
images and museum pieces. I like the cheerful and chic
navy and white combo in my modern wardrobe too.
I especially liked this illustration, dating from a few years later but showing bathing suits in a very similar style. While the embroidery in the original model is lovely, it would be way too much work for a garment that wouldn't get much use. Simple tape borders would be rather quick to make instead. I also loved the ridiculously impractical free flowing curls and the pretty sun hats.
|The pattern drafting
was fairly straightforward. The simple blouse pattern
was close to my size to begin with, I just drafted it a
bit smaller in width. I added some length when cutting
the mock up, as I have a long torso and I'm more likely
to be taller than shorter compared to the average
victorian lady. The sleeve and collar I copied as
straight from the book.
|I had to make some
adjustments in the fitting. The shoulder was way too
sloped for me, and I found out that the sleeve looked
less heavy when I narrowed it a bit at the lower end.
The collar fit weirdly and did not look anything like in the illustration, but on the other hand it looked similar enough to other collars I had seen on period illustrations so I decided to keep it as it was.
|On the trousers I
kept the width of the pattern piece as it was, but
lengthened the legs following the same logic as with the
blouse. I also drafted the waist higher at the back and
lower at the front, something I have to do with most
modern trouser patterns too. I also narrowed the legs at
the bottom to get them to look less clunky.
|I left the trousers
rather loose and baggy, especially at the back. They
don't look terribly flattering to a modern eye, but I
like swimming so I wanted to be able to actually swim in
this. For the same reason I placed the belt in the
blouse above my natural waist, at the level of my lowest
ribs, so it wouldn't dig into my waist. I must have been
a funny sight when I tried to make swimming moves on dry
land in my mock up pants made from old sheets.
I had planned to adjust the original pattern only to fit my size, but with a few other tweaks I ended up flaring and lengthening the blouse still a bit more, especially at the back. Like mentioned above, the pants don't look very hot so the more they are covered the better, and besides most bathing suit tops seem to have been considerably longer than this rather risque pattern.
both the blouse and the trousers I realized that there
was no way I could have managed to cut it from the baby
blue flannel anyway. Happily I had ordered a generous
length of the navy one.
The sewing was fairly straigthforward. I had decided to keep this an easy therapy project, so I didn't even begin to dig into proper period construction. I put the garments together with flat felled seams and finished the front edges and the collar seam with facing. The pants got sturdy buttoned openings at the sides.
Thanks to the mock up I didn't have to waste time on much further fitting but could just concentrate on the sewing. I did try on the trousers though and checked the waist pleats before sewing on the waistband, as I had marked them rather haphazardly on the mock up.
|I had some self made
cotton bias tape left over from binding stays. It was
cut from a vintage bedsheet and thus much more tightly
woven than the ready made one, so the dark base wouldn't
show through. I still had some of the same (or similar
enough) sheet, so I cut some more. Home made bias tape
is never quite even in width and the joins can be a bit
clunky, but I was not going to be too fastidious with
Well, okay, I did not put the bathsuit together the absolutely fastest way possible either, as I just couldn't resist hiding the white tape stitching on the inside with wide hems and facings wherever possible. I stitched the hems and facings with a dark thread right next to the tapes so they would show as little as possible.
|I also succumbed to
adding a tiny bit of embroidery in the shape of little
anchor designs on the collar corners. It was a cute
detail and quite quick to make. I did contemplate adding
embroidered anchors on the blouse front corners too, but
decided I rather liked the simple trimming as it was.
|The buttonholes on
the trousers would be covered by the blouse hem, so I
made them by machine and furnished the openings with a
motley collection of metal buttons. I had originally
thought I might make the more visible blouse buttonholes
by hand, as I actually enjoy making buttonholes, but
then came to my senses and realized that the time that
would take would be better spent elsewhere. In the dark
material the machine made buttonholes are not so
conspicuous after all, especially flanked by the
eye-catching white stripes. The blouse buttons got a
matching white cotton covering.
finished their bathing attire with dainty bathing
slippers to protect their dainty white feet from rocks
and shells, or maybe for decency's sake, I don't know. I
actually got inspired to rip apart a pair of espadrillos
and got quite far in making new uppers from the remains
of the flannel, but then decided they looked too clunky
and bought second hand ballerinas instead. They even
matched the bath suit color pretty well, and all I had
to do was to add the tapes.
The straw hat was originally the first draft, so to speak, for my tissot dress - not only did I change my mind about the style I wanted, but I also made this one in a hurry and by machine, and it doesn'ẗ look terribly great up close. I added a bit of taffeta ribbon and decided it would do for this. A bathing cap would have been more practical, of course, but a hat looks so much nicer.
|Like I mentioned
before, the fabric was heavier than I had thought, and I
was a bit worried at the beginning that it would not
drape as nicely as the muslin mock up - the fit was
quite loose and might look baggy. I think it worked
quite nice in the end, after all, and at least it's not
In this era one should wear some undergarments under a bathing suit, possibly even a swimming corset. I decided to consciously ignore this, at least for now, as this was to be more of a quick and fun than totally accurate project. I wore just a modern bikini underneath to get some bust shaping, and besides this way I could remove the heavy soaked flannel suit whenever I wanted without offending (modern) public decency.
|The bathing suit
proved sturdy and comfortable in use, both for climbing
on the rocks and taking a quick swim. As expected the
wet cotton flannel was heavy and really chilly on a
windy day, and took forever to dry, but on the other
hand it did not become too unseemingly clingy.
The slippers on the other hand were a terrible idea - as soon as I got into the water they were filled with sand with the first wave. And sand in your shoes does a lot more damage than walking barefoot in the sand. Maybe their slippers fit more snug back then or maybe they were a nuisance endured because bare toes would be scandalous, I really don't know. I'm only wearing them on dry land.
|So, in the end I did
manage to spend some hours pattern drafting and a few
evenings after the work sewing this, and I'm sure I
could have used that time making something I'll have
more use of, but heck, it's cute! And there has been
some talk of arranging a Victorian beach party, next
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