Sunday, 9 October 2011

Nude or Prude? Victorian Attitudes to Nudity and Sea-Bathing..

I am currently researching Georgian and Victorian attitudes to marriage and after a particularly pleasing foray into a second hand bookshop, came home with a real gem - 'The Perfect Wife,' by Rona Randall.

Skimming through this book, a passage caught my eye, about Victorian attitudes to nudity. In short, in the Victorian bedroom nudity was to be avoided at all costs. Even sisters sharing a bedroom would stand back to back, and undress beneath voluminous night gowns. Indeed husband's often disrobed in an ajoining room to don his night shirt and didn't enter the bed chamber until his wife was safely attired in a billowing nightgown and frilly cap.

 With this in mind it came as a quite shock to also read that some early Victorians thought nothing of bathing nude in the sea! The invention of swimming costumes came as late as 1870 and before this the options were a bathing hut wheeled into the sea or to cavort naked in the waves. It seems the later was not as exceptional as you might suspect, and many preferred nude bathing! In the summer  months the correspondance columns of local newspapers were full of complaints about the;

'shameless seaside cavortings of loose women and unblushing men...'

However one naked bather, the Rev Francis Kilbert, was anything but loose morals. In his diary he extols the delights of nude sea bathing and somewhat innocently complains about,

'the detestable custom of bathing drawers that are now becoming de rigeur.'

It seems he created quite a stir at Seaton 1873 when unaware of the new requirement for wearing bathing suites, especially as;

'the young ladies strolling near seemed to have no objection.'

One newspaper, the Saturday Review, commented on the habit of some women activley seeking out male nude bathers;

'There they sit [women] happy, innocent, undistrubed - placidly and immovably gaze at hundreds of males in the costume of Adam.'

Who'd have thought!
Coming...November 2011


  1. I love reading about how women "bathed" during that time period. Keeping the body covered back then vs exposing as much as one can today is a big change! Thanks for sharing this interesting article.

    Connie Fischer

  2. Guess there were a lot of married couples going to the seashore just so they could see each other "nekkid."


  3. Fabulous information- feel free, always, to post a link on the EHFA Facebook group!

  4. Great information. My grandmother was of the Victorian bent, and would never let anyone see even her bare arms or legs, summer or winter. I always wondered about what went on in her bedroom, but of course dared not ask. Good post.


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