The 5th of October 1830
The craze for bathing had begun long before the first bathing-suit proper went on sale in London. Resorts like Blackpool and Scarborough began to gain popularity in the early part of the 18th century, but bathers either did so naked, or dressed in ordinary clothes if they wanted to be decorous.
In 1750 the bathing machine was invented, according to some by one Benjamin Beale at Margate , though Ramsgate and Brighton also dispute the honour. This hut-on-wheels dragged by man or horse into the sea enabled bathers jealous of their privacy to enter the waves away from prying eyes, though still clad in crinolines and flannels.
Taking to the water became more and more popular in the early 19th century, especially after the Prince Regent gave it the royal seal of approval. It took, however, until 1830 for the first purpose-made commercially produced bathing suit to be created: swimming for sport rather than for hydrotherapy was becoming more significant, perhaps the spur to the inventor, though modesty was doubtless still a factor – the design became known as 'the prison suit', covering all the wearer bar head, hands and feet, a far cry from speedos and bikinis.
An outfitter's in Baker Street, Farley's, retailed the muslin, worsted and linen garment which is claimed to be the very first of its kind. Given this is supposed to have been exhibited to the world on October 5, we may wonder whether any actually sold – a dip in October in the Channel or North Sea would be somewhat bracing.
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