Inquiring reader, in honor of this week’s tepid heat wave in Richmond, I continue my coverage of all things seaside during the Regency era. To our moderns eyes, Regency fashions by the seashore covered as much of the body as ordinary clothes, and were as complicated as regular fashions. Let’s take a closer look.
I question this image from 1998’s Vanity Fair, in which Natasha Little as Becky Sharpe looks more like a Victorian seaside gamboller than a proper Regency lady. In addition, she would have changed into this bathing costume inside the bathing machine and gone into the water largely unnoticed. She is shown in full view of both men and women on the beach wearing this outfit, which was clearly meant for swimming.
This Belle Assemblee fashion plate depicts a more demure approach to seaside fashion. The muslin gowns are rather plain, meant for the day, but it is only 1810 after all, when dress silhouettes were still classically severe. These dresses could be worn in full view of other vacationers on the beach. One sees the “wrapping” in the style of the turbans and pelisse and cape. A seaside outing was meant to be bracing and restorative, and therefore people would venture to the beach regardless of the weather.
The women are sitting, or else the length of the dress would become obvious. The length of dresses meant to be worn when walking along the shore were cut a little higher, one supposes to accommodate a walk along the beach when sand and waves would wreak havoc with delicate hems. The lady in the illustration is dressed for the evening, perhaps for a fete on a public pier, who knows? Either way, she is dressed to be seen in high style, even if the tiered lacy hems of her bloomers are showing.
Famed illustrator James Gillray showed seaside fashion in all its glory. From the high tide hem of the lady in the center, to the completely covered up garb of the women sitting on the beach. This lovely illustration from 1810, “The Calm,” shows the seashore on a calm day, with our fashionable miss as exposed as she can decently be – her arms and neck bare, her head covered by a small straw bonnet, and her tiny parasol barely protecting her delicate skin from Sol’s harmful rays.
This illustration shows the sea shore on a raw day that many Britons will recognize, with the winds whipping up waves, woolen capes, and muslin skirts. Even covered up, this lady exposes more to prying eyes than was appropriate!
Taking cold dips in the ocean and drinking foul-tasting spa water were two of the health benefits derived from visiting a seaside resort. Inhaling the fresh sea air was another. These fashions again show how thoroughly one covered up before venturing out of doors.
Regardless of their location in or out of the water, non-swimmers remained covered up. It is ironic that once in the water, so many men and women would swim completely naked, but there you have it: Seaside, Regency style.
On a side note, a dog lover like myself will find the Gilray prints and the Scarborough print quite interesting, for dogs are prominently displayed as realistic touches.
- Seaside Fashion in Jane Austen’s Day
- Dressing for the seaside, Jane Austen Centre
- Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813
- Seaside Bathing Dress
- Martha Gunn, Brighton’s Queen of the Dippers
- Benjamin Beale’s Invention for Bathing Machines
- Cost of Transportation, Bathing Machines and Carriages in 1836 Brighton