Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bathing Beauty

Before we get to the main event, I'd like to sincerely thank the Providence Athenaeum for providing the most generous access to their archive of Godey's Lady's Books.  It is an amazing institution with an important mission and if you are ever in Providence, it should be at the top of your list of things to see.

The Godey's Lady's Book world of fashion in the 1860's encompassed resort-wear.  Who knew?  I came across this image of recommended bathing-wear in the July 1864 Godey's, along with the description of the fashions below.

Figure 1:  Turkish pants of a gray and white striped material, fastened at the ankle with an elastic cord.  Paletôt dress of a dark blue and black flannel, made with a small cape, and trimmed with black mohair braid.  Oil silk hat, bound and trimmed with scarlet binding.
Figure 2:  Suit of pearl-colored flannel, trimmed with dark blue flannel, and braided in a plain Grecian pattern with narrow blue braid.  Cap of oil silk, trimmed with dark blue flannel.
Figure 3:  Suit of black cloth, bound with scarlet flannel.  The collar is of scarlet flannel, also the cap, which is trimmed with black braid and a long black tassel.
Figure 4:  Suit of scarlet flannel, trimmed with wide and narrow black braid.  The dress is decorated with applications of black cloth, cut in the shape of anchors.  The hat is of white straw, trimmed with scarlett braid.
Godey's was printed in Philadelphia and they make reference to Cape May, New Jersey several times, citing the clean, punctual and efficient rail transport from New York and Philadelphia to the resort town.

The Historic Chalfonte Hotel, Cape May, New Jersey
In addition to providing the clothes and the locations, the fashion editor (not Sarah J. Hale, the literary editor of the magazine) had this to say about resort-wear.
As the warm weather is hurrying persons to the seaside, a few hints on bathing dresses may be acceptable.
There is no dress so easy of accomplishment as a neat, tasteful, and comfortable bathing dress; and yet, sometimes, when watching bathers at the sea-side, one is tempted to believe such an achievement impossible.
Instead of the usual flannel, Mme. Demorest is making bathing dresses of moreen, and considers this material better adapted for the purpose.  It is of a strong, firm texture; not too heavy, does not cling to the person after being in the water, as it immediately drains off.
A very handsome suit just finished at her establishment, No. 473 Broadway, was of drab moreen, the waist plaited to a yoke, and into a belt at the back, the front left loose and belted in like a morning wrapper.  The skirt not too short, about half way below the knee, and plaited at the back in large box plaits; the sleeves full, and fastened by a close band at the wrist; a small round collar of the same material give a neat finish to the throat.  The trimmings consist of a band of scarlet cloth, one inch wide, stithced all round the skirt, a short distance from the edge; the same on cuffs, collar, and belt.  Bloomer pants, fastened into a band of scarlet cloth at the ankle, completes the dress.  This suit should of course be lined, except the skirt, and was, in this instance, neatly done with a very thin muslin, with just sufficient texture to make it smooth; and the seams were covered int he same manner as a double gown.
Another of the same goods cut like a circular, only joined on the shoulders, was nearly finished and was exceedingly pretty.  The skirt being very full, with full sleeves and pants, and dark blue trimmings instead of scarlet, made a very tasteful suit.
But we doubt the propriety of any but a genius at work attempting to cut it.  However, we remember that a duplicate pattern may be had from this establishment of any and everything desirable in the dress department.
By the way, why does not some leader of fashion at Newport or Cape May introduce the havelock as an appendage to a lady's bathing hat?  It is so disagreeable to have the sun beating down on one's neck, which it will do, in spite of the wide-brimmed hats.  We merely throw out the suggestion.
Cole's Dictionary of Dry Goods (1892) defines moreen as:
A fabric of mohair or wool filling and cotton warp; formerly made in imitation of moire silk, for purposes of upholstery.  It was sometimes plain, but more commonly 'watered' with embossed patters by passing the cloth over a hot brass cylinder, on which was engraved various flowers and other fancy figures.  At present it is manufactured to some extent and used for petticoats, bathing dresses, etc., and the heavier qualities for curtains.
A havelock, according to Merriam-Webster, is "a covering attached to a cap to protect the neck from the sun or bad weather", first used in 1861.

No comments:

Post a Comment