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Une agreable surprise!
April 16, 2014 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Victorian Prudes and their Bizarre Beachside Bathing Machines. If you were a beachgoer in Georgian or Victorian times, more specifically, a female beachgoer, your day at the seaside would’ve likely had all the fun sucked out of it by a little invention known as the bathing machine.
posted by Bunny Ultramod (46 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The thing that caught my eye is the drawing where the guy is saying "BAI JOVE." Like, as in lolcats "O HAI"? Or what? I've never seen this before outside of 21st-century internet jokes. Anyway, about the machines, sad to say there are many, many women who would welcome their return. My mom for one. She just absolutely adamantly refuses to be seen in a bathing suit even though beach going used to be her favorite thing. She would be all over this.
posted by HotToddy at 9:04 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


As a side note, I totally want one of those stripped men's bathing costumes, just for hanging around the house like the worlds most pretentious snuggie
posted by The Whelk at 9:05 AM on April 16 [9 favorites]


Now I need someone to do a Victorian period remake of Jaws, if only to see the scene where a wax-mustachioed Chief Brody in a straw hat and striped swimming outfit runs frantically up and down the beach shouting into a megaphone "Everybody get back into your bathing machines!"
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:08 AM on April 16 [25 favorites]


I actually always thought they looked kinda fun, honestly. A private little house out in the surf that I could go in and out of while splashing? Maybe dive off of? Where I could rest without getting sand all over my wet butt? Awesome!
posted by crush-onastick at 9:08 AM on April 16 [12 favorites]


It's all fun to laugh at the prudes of the past, but for anyone who was of age in the 1970's, today's world has many elements of a new puritanism. For example, there were no cubicles in men's changerooms in swimming pools in the 70's (and a limited number in women's from what I heard), however nowadays if you dry off and change out of your swimsuit openly, the attitude seems to be that you're some sort of pervert or worse. Also, closer to my interests at the time, the widely accepted visibility of nipples through bralessness and unpadded swimsuits.
posted by fairmettle at 9:08 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


If you told me this was some sort of experimental military watercraft, I would probably believe it.

Also, yeah, a beach chair, a boombox, some cold beers and a roof that opens and that would be a pretty cool thing to have on the beach. I guess what I am saying is that I want a yacht.
posted by griphus at 9:11 AM on April 16 [11 favorites]


nowadays if you dry off and change out of your swimsuit openly, the attitude seems to be that you're some sort of pervert or worse

Apparently the old dudes at my gym didn't get this memo.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:24 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I find it strange that we have a special kind of clothing for wearing in the water at all. And that we have special words and places and giggles for people swimming without that clothing. It's all very modern.

I'd love to read more about the growth of bathing culture. When I was in Germany recently I was up on the Baltic coast and visited various Victorian-era bathing towns like Binz and Heilingendam. For some reason in the 1880s or so people suddenly decided swimming in the cold open sea was healthy, then built whole party towns around the idea. Lovely!
posted by Nelson at 9:25 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Anyone who thinks horses on a beach is a lovely romantic idea needs to think the whole scenario through again.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:27 AM on April 16 [20 favorites]


Some of those ladies' bathing costumes are darling. I especially like the dark dress with the sailor stripes, with the polka-dot head kerchief. So cute!
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:27 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I would like one of these, but I want it water-accessible from the inside so that I can enjoy the water without having to deal with the sun. Basically I want a rolling roof.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:30 AM on April 16 [8 favorites]


Crinoline 4 Evah!
posted by jeanmari at 9:34 AM on April 16


How did I not know this was a thing. Thank you, weird human race via Bunny Ultramod.
posted by rainbaby at 9:34 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Those drawings look like D-Day. And look at these fucking hipsters.
posted by univac at 9:36 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


When I was a little kid I was fascinated by the idea of diving bells. I definitely would have commandeered one of these for experimental purposes.

Crinoline 4 Evah!

I didn't see a source for that image but I was wondering if that was actually a cartoon in Punch, which loved to make fun of Victorian womens' fashions, or something like that, rather than an advertisement for an actual product. Newspaper advertisements from that time would normally have tons of text crammed in to them next to any illustrations rather than just a one-line caption.
posted by XMLicious at 9:38 AM on April 16


I love the idea of a same-sex strong person to pull you in and out of the machine, as these were also the days before proper lifeguards. A whole FPP could be devoted to George Freeth and the turn of the century efforts to not have people drown by the seaside.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 9:39 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


It's all fun to laugh at the prudes of the past, but for anyone who was of age in the 1970's, today's world has many elements of a new puritanism. For example, there were no cubicles in men's changerooms in swimming pools in the 70's (and a limited number in women's from what I heard), however nowadays if you dry off and change out of your swimsuit openly, the attitude seems to be that you're some sort of pervert or worse.

One of the things I've often wondered - is this because of the increasing visibility and acceptability of queer folks? Like, as long as your basic premise is "I am uncomfortable changing around people by whom I might be evaluated sexually or whom I might be tempted to evaluate BUT same-gender sexual desire is some weird thing that the preverts in the Big City do" you can segregate things by gender and feel that you're achieving your objective. But once you're all "I don't want to change around people where there might be sexual interest-type-stuff and I recognize that there are queer folks and that's okay", you pretty much have a cubicle situation.

Also, I think, there's a greater awareness of bullying and same-gender sexual harassment. I don't think "glorious cubicle-less seventies locker rooms"; I think "nightmares of shame and creepy bullying".

But then, also, I think that as mass media has become more sexually explicit, there's also the sense that merely to appear in public, you need to do as much as you can to approximate media images of people in swimsuits, etc - like, you see those old photos of Soviet beaches with all the elderly fat ladies in what are obviously for-swimming-and-sunning-convenience bikinis and that would be absolutely unacceptable here and now. You'd be considered a pervert with no sense of correct behavior if you did such a thing.

On the whole, I would rather have cubicles, not least because as a visibly queer (but the wrong kind of queer, just boring and butch instead of sexy punk femme) person, I notice that many women are uncomfortable changing around me. It's pretty hilarious, because I am the most eyes-front person in the history of prudes, and it's much more my beautiful femmey queer friends who are likely to be looking at people.
posted by Frowner at 9:43 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


This is where I got my Victorian Men's One-Piece. A bit pricey, but I didn't feel like waiting for a seamstress friend to clear time in their schedule since I had a trip to Outer Banks coming up.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:44 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Lyn Never -- here's the model you need. Full access to the sea without ever going outside.
posted by pbrim at 9:50 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


there were no cubicles in men's changerooms in swimming pools in the 70's

The collective mens' restorrms and changing area at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor outside of LA is just a big open area with a bunch of benches in the middle. I appreciated the deal-with-it-ness of the whole thing, but I nevertheless think it's weird when a bunch of little bitty kids are nude in a big room with a bunch of unrelated adults. It's not that I think therre's some great risk for harm there, it's that little kids running around and playing don't always... uh... respect personal space? That moment when a naked 5 year old, squealing and having fun being chased by his cousins, bumps into you and grabs hold of your leg thinking you're his dad is made all the more awkward and unpleasant when you're also naked.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:55 AM on April 16


People's bodies in 2014: we've still got a lot of anxiety about them!
posted by crayz at 9:59 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


The thing that caught my eye is the drawing where the guy is saying "BAI JOVE." Like, as in lolcats "O HAI"? Or what? I've never seen this before outside of 21st-century internet jokes.

Eye dialect.
posted by The Tensor at 10:08 AM on April 16 [10 favorites]


Walking Bluffers Beach down the street from where I was in Toronto, I found it amusing to see the Middle Eastern women playing in the water in full dress, including socks and headwear, while on the towels just over from them sat these barrel-chested Eastern European men in the tiniest of swimsuits. Diversity!

With cubicles you can now have unisex changerooms. There's one at a new community pool in the reinvigorated Regent Park area of Toronto. With little familiarity of locker rooms since my childhood, I couldn't wrap my head around the idea at first but it seems like a real advancement. The larger changeroom had glass walls at two ends so it could be seen from the pool or the main hall or even from the street outside. By making it open public space the risk of dodgy goings on is lessened.
posted by TimTypeZed at 10:11 AM on April 16


I have the same reaction to this as those kids in the recent thread seeing a Walkman for the first time.
posted by GrapeApiary at 10:12 AM on April 16


I wont mind having an open car which can carry me out to the sea to some depth .. where I can lay down and enjoy the sun and may be go to sleep and take a dip or two without bothering about all that pesky sand.

May be its time to reinvent the idea with an open air car/deck and a canopy and a small shower with a lounger etc.

In case you actually see it around :) let me know.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 10:12 AM on April 16


Still way too much exposure of flesh going on with this. Especially as most attempted solutions completely gave up on protecting the user from being seen while actually bathing. They should more properly have been called "changing machines."

The problem the Victorians grappled with was allowing in water while blocking visibility to sinful outside observers. This was essentially a technological problem. What they really needed was something that would surround the bather completely while in the water, while still keeping the occupant from being seen. Basically a shark cage that you couldn't see into. Something along the lines of a modern wet submarine, although these are built primarily by secular humanists to today's lax moral standards. They can completely enclose the user, however, and should do so with an opaque material rather than the entirely immodest plexiglass. A series of carefully placed venting tubes would allow water to equalize inside and outside the machine, while being carefully angled to avoid straight lines of sight into the device. The user would be able to use modern underwater cameras and displays to see outside and so enjoy communing with creation in a completely chaste fashion.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 AM on April 16


From "The Hunting of the Snark", by Lewis Carroll:
"Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
The warranted genuine Snarks.
...
"The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
Which is constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes—
A sentiment open to doubt.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:37 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


fairmettle: "It's all fun to laugh at the prudes of the past, but for anyone who was of age in the 1970's, today's world has many elements of a new puritanism. For example, there were no cubicles in men's changerooms in swimming pools in the 70's"

I can never get over how when my dad went to college in 1970, the swimming pool (which served men only) was still a nude swimming pool. And when he was a kid in the 50s, there were lots of nude (male-only) beaches (in Michigan) for healthful swimming. Playing in the water in trunks at a FAMILY beach was seen as relaxing, but not healthful; you had to be naked for the health benefits.

Frowner: "One of the things I've often wondered - is this because of the increasing visibility and acceptability of queer folks? Like, as long as your basic premise is "I am uncomfortable changing around people by whom I might be evaluated sexually or whom I might be tempted to evaluate BUT same-gender sexual desire is some weird thing that the preverts in the Big City do" you can segregate things by gender and feel that you're achieving your objective. "

I would hypothesize that it is, instead, the movement to more familial privacy (smaller families, bigger houses) beginning in, oh, the 1930s and accelerating with the introduction of the birth control pill, which led to children (in particular) have much, much less exposure to adult sexuality (parents having sex, children being born) as children and a sense that it was inappropriate to expose them to it. A lot of anxiety around communal-vs-private changing spaces revolves around children, and in general you tend to see these private cubicles first introduced in mixed-age changing areas where there might be children present -- department store dressing rooms, family pools -- while communal changing areas in gyms for adults or junior high school lockerrooms persist a lot longer because same-age communal nudity is more acceptable. (And now that those of us who grew up as the children of Baby Boomers whose parents had so much anxiety about their children's exposure to adult sexuality, so the private changing areas we were used to as children at the local mixed-age swimming pool are expanded into adult-only areas.)

I have actually thought a lot about GLBT women in women's restrooms/lockerrooms/etc., and talked to friends about it, because in schools it periodically becomes an issue, and I have come to the conclusion that it's not someone's sexual preference that makes it comfortable or uncomfortable to share a bathroom/lockerroom with them ... it's that they share similar lady-type concerns and understandings of the world, like stretch marks or boob-size anxiety or a tolerance of people talking about menstruation and hot flashes, so it's a psychologically safe space to have to bare one's not-media-ideal body and all its messiness. To me the key point is that if someone identifies as a woman, they're very likely to respect the unspoken but very real psychological boundaries of The Shared Space For Naked Women. Most of the women I've talked to about this agree that it's not weird to have lesbian women or trans women in these shared spaces (although the potential for awkward misunderstandings may increase slightly). In fact, I would expect people who have had to address gender or sexuality issues to be MORE sensitive to appropriate boundaries in a Naked Place, because it's something they've had to think about. I can't speak to men's experience (and boy does that neighboring bathroom thread make me feel bad for men's bathroom anxiety), but that's how most women I've talked to have reacted.

(And junior-high-school-aged students do NOT respect those boundaries, because violating them is a form of social power at that age, which is why changing for gym in junior high is such a fucking nightmare ... whereas violating them as an adult is much more likely to lead to social ostracism.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:13 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


The Victorian English were only publically restrained and sort-of-prudish.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:27 AM on April 16


your day at the seaside would’ve likely had all the fun sucked out of it

Scanning too fast, I thought they were having all the sun fucked out of it. Which I guess is also true, since those things have roofs.
posted by vytae at 11:32 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I didn't see a source for that image but I was wondering if that was actually a cartoon in Punch, which loved to make fun of Victorian womens' fashions, or something like that, rather than an advertisement for an actual product. Newspaper advertisements from that time would normally have tons of text crammed in to them next to any illustrations rather than just a one-line caption.

There's a good cartoon about class where the family goes on holiday and the women use a bathing machine...only to see lower class women roaming nearby, half naked, looking for crabs. Another is where the young boy hauling the machine back thinks he's running in the Derby.
posted by Thing at 11:35 AM on April 16


I have actually thought a lot about GLBT women in women's restrooms/lockerrooms/etc., and talked to friends about it, because in schools it periodically becomes an issue, and I have come to the conclusion that it's not someone's sexual preference that makes it comfortable or uncomfortable to share a bathroom/lockerroom with them ... it's that they share similar lady-type concerns and understandings of the world, like stretch marks or boob-size anxiety or a tolerance of people talking about menstruation and hot flashes, so it's a psychologically safe space to have to bare one's not-media-ideal body and all its messiness. To me the key point is that if someone identifies as a woman, they're very likely to respect the unspoken but very real psychological boundaries of The Shared Space For Naked Women. Most of the women I've talked to about this agree that it's not weird to have lesbian women or trans women in these shared spaces (although the potential for awkward misunderstandings may increase slightly). In fact, I would expect people who have had to address gender or sexuality issues to be MORE sensitive to appropriate boundaries in a Naked Place, because it's something they've had to think about. I can't speak to men's experience (and boy does that neighboring bathroom thread make me feel bad for men's bathroom anxiety), but that's how most women I've talked to have reacted.

We must not have gotten the message here in Minnesota, because I definitely get the feeling that a small but definite percentage of straight women are not comfortable around me in locker rooms (or indeed, comfortable having me within about twenty feet). But as I say, I am pretty visibly queer and not feminine looking - I expect it's different for femme queer women. (I stopped going to the gym because I hated feeling like my mere existence was grossing people out, actually. It just got too stressful.) I mean I am horribly sensitive to the whole body/gender/sexuality issues thing because I'm queer and fat, but those two things together seem to translate into "ooooh the gross pervert lady is going to look at me" even though I do everything I can to signal that I would rather gnaw off my forearm.
posted by Frowner at 11:54 AM on April 16


There are several amusing art car ideas here, like maybe you enter one side clothed and exist onto the playa nude from the other, while the 'staff' attaches the clothing bundle to your bike.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:55 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Great link! All the pictures are really fascinating.

When I was small at school (during the seventies), all kids up to 10 changed together, regardless of gender. And yes, there was bullying, but I think the smallest boys found it safer to change together with the girls.

Private booths for changing were so rare, I was always confused about what to do in them. After all, you would need to be naked for the shower and sauna, which were both open. Or not? So why the private changing booth?

My parents were completely conservative, and hated the hippies and their ways, but they weren't at all shy about sharing the bathroom with the whole family or walking around the house naked. Embarrassingly, they only put on a robe when my friends came over, where I would have preferred real clothes (but their parents were all the same). I think it was even part of their conservative beliefs: here in my home, I can do whatever I want without government interference!

What happened? I think Eyebrows McGee is on to something. But there is probably also a class element. Those ladies with bathing machines weren't poor.
Already after WW1, a lot of former poor people became more affluent and had holidays and were more visible in public spaces. After WW2, that trend increased. Maybe some of the more relaxed state of things from the 1920's to the 1970's was also about a whole new part of society getting into public life and changing attitudes to morals and fashion and so on.
posted by mumimor at 12:21 PM on April 16


On the JoCo cruise, a previously-sunburned Wil Wheaton was sporting a custom-made, tech-fabric version of the historical striped mens' bathing suit he got made at a place in LA called Clockwork Couture, and I keep meaning to have one made for myself.
posted by uberchet at 12:42 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


The Victorian English were only publically restrained and sort-of-prudish.

NB, however, that the pictures are mostly from Ostend and Scheveningen. Make of that what you will.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:51 PM on April 16


If you want to see a bathing machine in action, the film Mrs Brown features Queen Vic, played by Judi Dench, and a daughter or two IIRC, using one. Between the machine itself and the massive bathing costume it really is bizarre to watch.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:32 PM on April 16


Aha, that scene is on youtube. Mighta known.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:50 PM on April 16


The pool in the basement of Teacher's College at Columbia University is somewhat of a throwback to this. The entire pool is lined with little changing stalls that have two doors. So you enter from the outer ring in your street clothes and then exit through the other door right into the pool area. There is no other way to get to the pool and you cannot see it without going through the changing stall. It's fascinating, but then again, that entire building is an "old New York" person's dream.
posted by Polyhymnia at 4:59 PM on April 16


We can mock Victorian prudery but recall that this was the great age of pornography
posted by Postroad at 5:17 PM on April 16


You can also see a bathing machine in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which is a nice bit of period-correct bit of stage dressing for 1940s Hollywood. Gene Tierney looks radiant frolicking in her swimming costume.

(I am a little obsessed with that movie)
posted by emjaybee at 5:29 PM on April 16


The royals went a little bit grander at Weymouth and San Sebastian.
posted by unliteral at 7:55 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


sad to say there are many, many women who would welcome their return

And some men too. I would be happier in a society where wearing a ton of clothing while swimming wasn't strange. I mostly avoid public pools and ocean and stuff for this reason.

Of course, the first day I met my fiancee's family in Japan, they were like "lets go to the onsen!". There may be a move away from public same-sex nudity here, but its certainly alive and well in Japan.

For me its not about attraction -- I don't care if the other men are gay or straight, I don't want anyone to see my body if possible, so I welcome any moves away from "lets all change clothes in the open in the locker room!"
posted by wildcrdj at 7:58 PM on April 16


wildcrdj: "I would be happier in a society where wearing a ton of clothing while swimming wasn't strange."

How much is a ton? Due to increased awareness of skin cancer risks, more and more boys are wearing "swim shirts" and it's pretty typical to see stores that sell kids' clothes -- even Target-type places -- to have about half as many swim shirts as trunks. More expensive places, like Gymboree, stock 1-to-1 swim shirts to trunks, because they expect their shoppers to buy both. About half of the boys under ten that I see, and nearly all of them under 5, are wearing swim shirts now, and you see more and more dads in them too, and young sporty guys and beach bums who spend a lot of time in the sun and older dudes who've had skin cancer before and so on and so forth. It's no longer even a little weird if it's an outdoor pool/body of water! You see guys of all different ages and body types in them, and in plain white T-shirts. I'm sure some of them use them more to cover up for modesty/body discomfort reasons and less for sun protection reasons, but who's to know?

I expect in ten years they'll be everywhere, since a lot of boys now have always worn them and will see it as just normal good sense.

(They're getting more common for little girls too, often with a choice of coordinating bottoms, in traditional swimsuit style, cute "boy shorts," or little skirt bottoms.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:24 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Expecting to see bathing machines as a high end hipster product right about naaaow...
posted by telstar at 10:35 PM on April 16


The rashguard and sun-protective swimwear is awesome for transfolk and other very body-conscious people. Hipster neo-edwardiana makes me want a suit even more. I'm currently making do with triathlon onesies for indoor water workouts. Hmmm, transverse stripes or sailor details...
posted by Dreidl at 12:57 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


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