As swimming and sea-bathing became increasingly popular during the second half of the 19th century, women’s bathing clothes evolved from ankle-length wool dresses to somewhat more comfortable, practical garments. Knee-length combinations, consisting of an all-in-one bodice and short trousers, enabled women to swim freely without getting their legs caught in long skirts which also floated to the surface. A separate knee-length skirt could be worn on land to preserve modesty and then removed for swimming.
Although fashion magazines such as the Young Ladies Journal or the Queen featured varied styles of costumes throughout the second half of the 19th century, navy blue wool bathing dresses with white braid trim were so popular that in July 1880 The Queen magazine suggested that for identification and laundering purposes, women might like to distinguish their very similar costumes by sewing a monogram on one arm or the front of their costumes. Navy costumes such as the two examples pictured here, were often decorated with simple contrasting trimming, such as white braid, sailor collars, or embroidered or appliqued anchors. By 1900, some more daring female bathers were beginning to wear sleeveless dresses, much more like costumes of the 1920s.