Seaside Dresses of the 1870’s


“Seaside dresses are generally admitted to allow of more freedom of coloring than those worn within the close limits of a city, or in the country.


For the drive or promenade at the sea shore, dresses should be chosen of material and color that will not be injured by the sea air of the spray, and many of the loveliest tints are thus made useless.  Hats are of such infinite variety in material and shape, that is a hopeless task to attempt to offer any comment upon them.  They should, however, always be broad-brimmed, and are more useful if made of a fine muslin drawn over a frame, as they can then be washed, and are freshened whenever so led or spotted.  Straw soon becomes limp in sea air, and lace loses its beauty very rapidly.


Evening dresses are the same as are worn upon occasions of the same nature elsewhere.

Bathing dresses should be made of fine flannel, and trimmed with a worsted braid of fast colors. The best color is a soft gray, which does not fade as soon as higher colors, and has always as elegant an appearance as this most unbecoming dress can have.  


The best style is a loose waist, belted in, with a skirt falling about halfway between the knee and the ankle, and made quite full. Turkish trousers, with a band at the ankle, and a ruffle below it; an oilskin cap covering the hair entirely, as salt water is injurious to it, and socks of soft merino the same color as the dress.  Any attempt at display in a bathing dress is absurd to the extreme, and although they are sometimes made of becoming material and fashion, they are unsightly enough after two or three encounters with the waves.


There is a fine species of grass cloth that has been used for bathing dresses, that will look well for a few weeks, but rarely longer. While white, this is pretty trimmed with gay-colored worst braid.  Flannel, however, is preferable, as it looks well, wears well, and is the most comfortable and healthy material for the purpose.


It is at the watering places and the seaside that the extravagancies of fashion assume their most monstrous forms and fancies…It is, therefore, useless in the limits of our little volume to attempt to give any rules of seaside dresses.  General ones are given in other portions of the book, and the only guide further is the fashion magazine of the day.”



The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to the Economy, Style and Propriety of Costume by Annie S. Frost, 1870


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Ten Fashion Guides for the 19th Century Woman

I spent the weekend exchanging my winter clothes for my summer clothes.  In addition to a deep sigh of relief that the clothes still fit, I took a long hard look at each piece, evaluating it’s condition, design, and fashion.  A strong 90% was able to stay, but a few found their way into the give-away pile.  While I believe in buying pieces that have multiple seasons in them, fashion often changes too fast.  With numerous fashion magazines, both modern and historical, offering advice and tips, it is always fun for the fashion conscious female to explore the “rules” no matter what the year.

Here are ten fashion tips taken from an 1870’s book entitled “The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to Economy, Style, and Propriety of Costume.”

  1. Consult suitability of occasion and where any doubt of style of dress exists, avoid over dressing.
  1. In arranging trimming, always allow about three inches to the yard for corners and fullness.
  2. Never force the season. (I suppose this means no shorts in February)
  1.  In making evening-dresses, trimmings and ornaments should always be tested by the same artificial light in which they are to be worn.
  1.  Consult your figure as well as your face in the choice of your dress, and if you cannot follow the fashion without appearing ridiculous, modify the fashion.
  1.  Feathers should only be worn in winter.
  1. Refinement in feeling requires refinement in dress.
  1. Two garments are indispensable in the wardrobe of a lady who travels much.  A waterproof cloak with a large hood, and a full, loose, linen duster to entirely cover the dress.
  1. Let your mirror and your taste select your hat or bonnet, rather than your milliner.
  1. Where economy and taste are at variance, let common sense decide your dress.

Now go and be fashionable! 🙂