Just in time for your summer beach trip! I present to you an article I stumbled upon in one of my vintage copies of The Ladies’ Home Journal from August, 1890 entitled “Promiscuous Bathing” by Felicia Hart. Enjoy!
It has long been the custom, for how many years I am afraid to say, for people to go into the water together at the seaside resorts. Perhaps in “ye olden time,” or even thirty years ago, it was less objectionable than it is now, due partially to the fact that Puritan and Quaker simplicity tinctured both attire and manners in those days. Be that as it may, surely any fastidious person, nay, any one innately delicate, must feel shocked at the daily spectacle the bathing beach now presents.
At the moment that I write I am sitting on one of the most beautiful beaches of the Atlantic coast, the sun now obscured by clouds, the sky of a very dark blue, almost leaden in hue, is lighted by paler shades in the west; the water, which is quite usual has assumed the same tints, and here and there white-crested waves seem to chase each other to shore. The hour is one of pleasantness and peace;here one may, far from the maddening crowd, get close to God and one’s own heart, and worship to the music of deep calling unto deep.
I dislike—radical though I am—to turn from so much that is beautiful and serene to humanity and its short-comings; but to my subject. Tomorrow at eleven o’clock how changed the scene! The place will be alive with men, women and children; without regard to fitness or condition, they will crowd and jostle each other.
Now if these people, being decently appareled, walked or ran, if it pleased them, into the water, bathed and returned to their respective bath-houses, I fancy that no one would raise any objection nor would there be excuse for such a paper as this; but when I see a young man and woman, who have only met at their hotel, emerge from their bathing houses, the man looking like a harlequin in his red or white jersey and short blue trousers, legs and arms perfectly bare; the girl in her costume de bain, of fine, white serge if she be very luxurious, made tight, showing every curve, I feel that a protest is in order.
A few years ago stockings were not worn; now they may be of silk or cotton, and the latest advices tell us of stockings cut so as to expose the toes, which some describe as “ten tiny pink shells.” As I see them thus arrayed—or disarrayed, to speak correctly—I fear the girl will soon begin to calculate the effect of what some one lately called “artistic bareness” on the mind of masculinity, and the man to be too conscious of the value of muscle and calf which he exposes.
As the mouthpiece of the crowds who come to witness these exhibitions, let me quote the little girl who, in the innocence of her heart, asked her mother “If she might take off her dress and play in her underclothes like the ladies did on the beach.” After the bath these young people settle themselves on the sand for perhaps an hour or so, rarely having any chaperon or older person with them. Is it right that an innocent and childish creature should be thrown into such close and utterly unguarded companionship with one of the opposite sex? A girl’s purity and perfect unconsciousness are her greatest charms, and can we expect her to retain these graces in such an atmosphere?
You may say bare legs are no more demoralizing than bare shoulders, of which we have a surfeit in every ballroom. Granted; but because we condone one indelicacy are we to smile quietly on all? Round dances have been the subject of pulpit oratory; let the moralist and preacher now turn their attention to this rapidly increasing evil.
An hour or so on any fashionable coast will convert them to my view, as they behold our daughters freely exposing those charms which should always be concealed from the curious and vulgar. If your daughter and mine are so well bred in virtue that none of these customs will harm them, does our responsibility end here? Shall we preach and not practice?
My personal conclusions:
- Bless Felicia Holt’s heart. I bet she was an awful lot of fun to be around.
- I’m glad I didn’t live in “ye olden time” of 1890.
- The next time your husband or son heads out to mow the lawn “in his red or white jersey and short blue trousers, legs and arms perfectly bare,” I dare you to tell him he is nothing more than “a harlequin.”
- I’m not sure what a “costume de bain, of fine, white serge” is, but it sounds lovely and quite modest by today’s standards.
- If you are in the habit of painting your toenails and wearing open-toed sandals or flip-flips, you are guilty of committing the crime of “artistic bareness on the mind of masculinity.” You, my friend, are nothing more than a shallow seductress. And speaking of “ten tiny pink shells,” have you seen OPI’s pink shade “Malaysian Mist?” Seriously, it’s to die for.
- If Mrs. Holt where here today to give a commentary of an average day at the beach, I’m fairly certain she would need smelling salts or perhaps, even a defibrillator. Which of course, would involve someone coming near her bosom to jumpstart her heart and that, I’m sure we can all agree, would do her in altogether.
- And my final conclusion: I don’t care what brand of modesty you’ve subscribed to regarding swimwear (one piece, bikini, tankini, or even the ever-so-modest Land’s End skirted swimsuit), it’s safe to say we would all (girls, mothers, and grandmothers included) be considered harlots by this woman’s standards. 🙂