8 Vintage Swimsuits From the 19th Century That Make us Glad to Live in the 21st Century

Bathing suit season comes with a whole host of problems. Think of the funky tanlines you got from your monokini with all those inventive cutouts. Raise your hand if your swimsuit halter top from target has ever gone renegade in the ocean. You know-- suddenly high tide comes along and is like – “Surprise, you’re naked!”-- while all you can do is shake your head and ask for a buddy to double knot you next time. Still, it’s important to retain a bit of perspective, because beachwear has a long tradition of being totally awkward and hampering.

Think for example of Victorian bathing suits. The only tanlines you were getting happened on your wrist. Instead of bikinis, they had bloomers and long-sleeved tunics. On the bright side, getting sunburnt or losing your top was never an issue. But if you were to even ponder the option of a swim, you and your fashionable wool bathing ensemble would be in waterlog city.

Sure, if these Victorian ladies got a load of what we wear to the beach, the reaction would be nothing short of a tsunami of pearl-clutching. But for all the charm of these ultra nostalgic swimsuits, contemporary styles win hands-down in the swimwear department. It's just a quality of life thing. After all, partial nudity and free range of movement beats modesty and fashion-induced heat stroke any day. Check out some of the following 19th Century bathing suits, and you’ll be glad to have been born in the late 20th.

1830s Bathing Suit/Sporting Outfit

Most bathing costumes from the era weren’t even meant for swimming. Their purpose was to allow for a wider range of movement than the everyday uniform. We can’t say that this style, taken from a French fashion plate circa 1830, would be the most fun to play beach badminton in, But it has a definite harlequin charm. Plus, the sleeves double as swimmies!

Image: Tumblr

Late 1860s- Early 1870s Bathing Costume

Wading into any body of water in this skirt is something we’re fine with never experiencing.

Image: Retro Rack

1862 Fashion Plate

This mid-Victorian era fashion plate displays an array of fashionable bathing dresses. Dresses over pants were a thing way before we even knew it…

Image: Ye Olde Fashion

American Bathing Suit: 1870-1900

Imagine these bloomers and this Dirndl-esque number on the racks at California Sunshine…

Image: Met Museum

Bathing Ensemble 1875

More of a Fall look, no?

Image: FIDM Museum

1895-1900 French Bathing Costume

If you lost your parasol, you always had your bonnet to protect you from the sun!

Image: Met Museum

Boston Catalogue Clipping, Late 19th Century

The suits in this late 19th Century catalogue may be a bit more forgiving with attempted movement. However, they’re made of mohair, flannel, and various other fabrics that suffocate your body. But check out those prices!!

Image: Tumblr

American Bathing Corset 1900

Bathing and corset and just two words that don’t belong in the same sentence.

Image: Met Museum