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A Stylish Summer

Published on August 17th, 2017

Our photos from 1890 to 1960 show how summer fashions have changed since the demure days of bathing machines!

The children here are well covered up from the sun with typical Victorian clothing and straw hats, but can’t resist showing a daring amount of flesh as they paddle on the beach at Tenby. Bathing machines stand behind them in the background, which could be found in most seaside resorts throughout the 19th century. Ladies and gentlemen wishing to bathe in the sea would enter the machines from the landward side and horses would then haul the contraptions down into the water. The bathers donned their bathing apparel inside before emerging through the door and slipping into the shallows, dignity intact, where they could immerse themselves in the healthy sea with due modesty and propriety. Whilst they were bathing, the horses would be harnessed to the other end of the machines ready to pull them back to the beach for the return journey. It was not until the Edwardian era, in the early 20th century, that people changed into their bathing costumes and swam from the beach.

Photo: Tenby, South Sands 1890.

What a stylish and elegant family! The mother is dressed in the height of Edwardian fashion, looking beautifully cool and elegant in her gorgeous white dress, and her tiny waist is nipped in by unforgiving whale-bone corsets worn beneath her outfit. She must have been feeling the heat dreadfully on this hot sunny day but is well-prepared for it, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and carrying her parasol ready to protect her fashionably pale complexion from the sun – a sun-tan is definitely not a requirement in 1908! The father looks dapper in his jaunty boater, and the children are very smart in the Edwardian equivalent of mini Boden outfits, the little boy in a smart blazer and the little girl in a pretty dress and carrying a parasol to be just like Mum. Given the Isle of Wight's popularity as a holiday and residential paradise at this time, it comes as no surprise that the fashionable and well-to-do set thronged to this charming resort for their summer holidays.

Photo: Sandown, Fashion 1908.

The children in this view from 1918 look relaxed and happy in their holiday gear – children’s fashion is getting more practical for keeping cool, with fewer layers of clothing and shorter hems on dresses and skirts. The men in the background of this view are wearing that stylish summer accessory of the past that epitomises summer, a smart straw boater hat.

Photo: St Anne's, Summer Fun 1918.

In the 1920s, Sidmouth had a reputation as an up-market resort, as renowned for its climate and setting as for its sea bathing. This very stylish young couple look quite delightful in their smart holiday clothes, especially the young lady in her pretty striped dress and matching white shoes. Perhaps they were on their honeymoon?

Photo: Sidmouth, York Terrace 1924.

Cloche hats, shorter hemlines and dropped-waisted skirts – typical 1920s fashion. And it’s no surprise if this photo looks like a scene from a dramatisation of one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot detective novels – Agatha Christie was born Agatha Miller in 1890 in Torquay, and grew up in the town. She married Archie Christie in 1914 and the couple spent their honeymoon at the Grand Hotel in Torquay. During the First World War she worked as a member of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) in a makeshift hospital in the Public Hall attached to Torquay’s Town Hall in Castle Circus, first nursing wounded soldiers and then working in the pharmacy, where she gained a considerable knowledge of poisons that she later used to great effect in her books. It was also during the war that, in 1915, she noticed a small Belgian man on a tram in Torquay, one of many refugees from the conflict who had come to the town from Belgium; she used him as the model for one of her most famous fictional creations, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who appeared in her first published novel, ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, written in 1916.

Photo: Torquay, Torbay Road 1928.

Another pair of stylish ladies from the 1920s, snapped in Torquay when it was in its heyday as a summer resort that was famous for its style and sophistication and known as ‘The Queen of the English Riviera’.

Photo: Torquay, Fashion 1928.

Walking along with their sun-bonneted charges, these three ladies have a wonderful view of the bay. The long promontory of Filey Brigg, part of a huge curve of cliffs, shelters this long stretch of firm beach from the worst of the north-east gales.

Photo: Filey, Fashion 1932.

These three women seem completely absorbed by the youngster’s activity in the pool in this photo taken outside the holiday chalets at Scarborough. The dog in the background clearly has more interesting things to do! The women look very 1950s, particularly the one on the left, wearing a checked pinny and with her hair covered with a nattily-tied headscarf.

Photo: Scarborough, Holidaymakers c.1955.

Don’t the girls look just the thing with their skirts spread out around them on the grass, and their parasols to keep cool! Billy Butlin bought the land here and opened one of his holiday camps in 1945. In 1995, just beside the old Butlin camp, the modern chalets of Primrose Valley Holiday Camp were built.

Photo: Filey, Primrose Valley c.1935.

This photo of a family by the seaside in the 1960s will strike a chord with many ladies of a certain age – check out the little girl on the left, wearing her ruched swimsuit. This was a very popular style in the 60s – the writer of this caption remembers wearing one just like that as a little girl!

Photo: Filey, Summer Fun c.1960.

How beach fashion has changed since the demure days of bathing machines and top-to-toe bathing costumes, and the fear of letting the sun get to our skin! Nowadays we all want a sun-tan and a bikini is the preferred beachwear.

Photo: Newhaven, A Summer Outing c.1965.

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