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Can you swim in a worsted wool Edwardian swimsuit? Let’s find out!

Yesterday I showed you my reproduction worsted wool Edwardian swimsuit.  Everyone wanted to know if I actually swam in it, and if you could swim in it.  Obviously I wondered this as well.  The swimsuit was lovely to frolic on the beach on, but could it actually work as a swimsuit.

So I gave it a try!

My reproduction swimsuit was made from worsted wool serge, and consists of a jumpsuit with attached bloomers, and an overskirt.  Both garments button down the front.

I chose to swim with bare legs and feet.  While fashion plates generally show shoes and stockings there are enough period photographs that show wading women with swimsuits and bare lower limbs to make this equally plausible for a full swim.

For the first swim I jumped off a little dock at Hataitai/Evan’s Bay beach.  It’s a popular swimming spot (as evinced by all the kids watching me), and very calm and safe, so a good place to try out the swimsuit.

My first mini swim showed:

  • It’s definitely possible to swim in a worsted wool Edwardian swimsuit
  • The swimsuit does seem to provide some additional insulation compared to a conventional modern swimsuit.
  • The suit does hold a reasonable amount of water, but it dried off surprisingly quickly.
  • Scarves do not stay on.

I would NOT want to do this in a woollen swimsuit (read about the difference between worsted and woollen fabrics here).  Woollen wool would hold so much more water, which might not be an issue when in the water, but would make it much harder to get in and out of the water, particularly climbing a ladder, as I did.

I should note that I’m not a particularly good swimmer.  I never took lessons: just learned by whatever sort of osmosis growing up in Hawaii does for your swimming skills.  My friends who are very good swimmers have cheerfully gone into great detail about how bad my form is.  If you’re ever caught in a riptide you’d better hope there is someone other than me on the beach!

Going swimming in an Edwardian style swimsuit

After the first mini swim, I tried a longer one: jumping off the dock, and swimming around the curve of the coast to the little sandy beach.  It’s a distance of a bit over 100m (very rough guess).

The longer swim I gave me a better idea of how my Edwardian swimsuit, with its bloomers and skirt, fared.

Going swimming in an Edwardian style swimsuit

Thoughts on the longer swim:

  • Over the course of the swim I definitely felt the additional drag caused by all the extra fabric.  I wasn’t nearly as streamlined as I would be in a modern suit, and swimming took more effort.
  • I also felt the constriction caused by the sleeves around my arms: it was harder to take a proper stroke.
  • The swimsuit definitely provided a little extra insulation.  Very nice in the brisk Wellington water.
  • Would the extra effort and fatigue caused by the swimsuit mean I’m burning more calories in less time?
  • The swimsuit seemed to shrink or bind slightly at the waist as I swam (perhaps from all the water being held in the wool), and it chafed at the waistband. I’ve since washed and dried it, and tried it on again, and it doesn’t seem to have shrunk: the tighter feeling is only when wet.

Going swimming in an Edwardian style swimsuit

Many thanks to my wonderful friend ‘Priscilla’ for taking the video and the photos (you can hear her commentary in the background), and for Mr D, who entertained Priscilla’s baby & 5 year old while we took these.  (No thanks to the baby who cried when I tried to hold her, and then delightedly let Mr D hold her for a whole hour, and then cried when she had to leave him. 🙁  It’s been two weeks and he’s still bragging about that…)

Going swimming in an Edwardian style swimsuit


Edwardian swimsuit by

I do like to be beside the sea (in an Edwardian Swimsuit)

It took three and a half years, but I’ve finally managed to do a photoshoot in the ca. 1907 worsted wool Edwardian swimsuit that I made for the HSF ‘Inspiration’ challenge back in 2014.

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by

I generally have to plan and prep for a photoshoot in full historical for a good few days beforehand, but this one was quite spontaneous.

It was a gorgeously sunny and warm Saturday, after days of storm and rain.  Quite out of the blue, Mr D asked if I wanted to do a photoshoot that evening.  I thought about showing you yet another pair of shorts + a Miramar top, but that wasn’t particularly exciting.  It was too warm for most of my historical costumes, but then I remembered the Edwardian swimsuit: very little prep and ironing needed, and not hard to put on!  And certainly long overdue!

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by


I’m wearing the swimsuit with the scarf I made to go with it, wool stockings from the Rosalie pattern, and cheap little slip-on sandshoes.  They aren’t actually that far from period originals in construction (Keds, after all, started out as a maker of beach shoes), and I won’t be heartbroken if the seawater makes them fall apart.

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by

I’m not sure what was worn under swimsuits in the first decade of the 20th century, but the few clues I can find, and logic, suggest the answer is nothing.  I’m not that brave, and was worried about wool chafing, so opted for a cotton singlet and knickers (both from the Scroop Wonder Unders pattern, of course!).

No corset with garter clips did present a problem.  How to hold up the stockings?  I held mine up by rolling them down over a tied garter.  Some images of women in similar swimsuits show what appears to be an extra ribbon tied around the cuff of the bloomers.  Was it just for decoration, or was it a further garter to help keep stockings from slipping?

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by


I’d forgotten how much fun it is to wear this.  It’s very comfortable, and twirls and bounces most pleasingly.  There was quite a brisk breeze, so the skirt fluttered around me.


ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by

I had the most delightful time skipping about on the exposed sand flats, chasing seagulls, and twirling in the wind.

Edwardian swimsuit by


ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by


The sea was quite rough and unsuitable for swimming, though I did wade in up to my waist.  The photos of that are pretty bad though, as Mr D wasn’t willing to walk out onto the wet sand flats.

The worsted wool didn’t absorb much water at all, and the wind dried it as soon as I came out.

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by

These photos were all taken at Lyall Bay, on Wellington’s South Coast, near the airport.  You can see the airplanes in the background behind me in the photo above.  Surfing was first introduced to NZ at Lyall Bay by Duke Kahanamoku on March 21, 1915

There were quite a few surfers down the other end of the beach, but no swimmers.   The sea was quite rough, and the side we stayed on isn’t great for swimming even at the best of times, so we pretty much had it to ourselves.  I did get a few strange looks as I was getting out of the car, and when posing nearer  to the sidewalk.  One poor cyclist almost ran into a pole because he was turning his head back to look at me!

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by

Wearing the Edwardian swimsuit to the beach was an unmitigated success, but what about swimming in it?  Would it hold so much water you’d sink?  Be so cumbersome and bulky you could only stand there?  Chafe?  Would the wool keep you warmer than an ordinary swimsuit?  The answer to all those questions will be in my next post…

ca. 1907 Edwardian swimsuit by


Afternoon dress, Jean Patou, silk, wool, beading, 1919-22, sold by Augusta Auctions October 25 2017

Rate the Dress: 20s paisley by Patou

This week’s Rate the Dress pick, a beaded paisley 1920s number by Patou, continues on the 1900-1924 Edwardian & the Great War #greatwarmarch theme, carried over from Instagram.

If you’re on IG you can join us by sharing anything relevant to the daily theme from between 1900-1924 and tagging @wearinghistory and I (@thedreamstress)

Last week: a late Edwardian dress in pink velvet and lace

Reactions to last week’s Rate the Dress were quite simple.  They came in two varieties: #1 “I love it!” (average rating: 10) and #2 “I’m not sure about all those materials and elements together” (average rating 7).

The Total: 9.2 out of 10

Clearly the loves outweighted the unsures!

This week:

While I picked this dress because I was looking for something ’20s that was a nice contrast to last week’s pink & lace number, this dress is also a fascinating counterpoint to the the 1810s beaded dress from two weeks ago:

Both dresses feature a simple cut enlivened by vivid embroidery: the 1810s on Empire white, this on ’20s black.

Both dresses shared a mix of beading and embroidery, and in both cases the embellishment owed some inspiration to Indian and Kashmiri design.  The 1810s dress subtly replicated the motifs on ca. 1800s Kashmiri design, and this dress includes an explicitly paisley/boteh motif at the centre of the belt.

Like the 1810s dress, this is very much a frock of its own time, owning its colour to the growing fashion for black as the ultimate chic hue, and its shape to the growing trendiness of peasant inspired garments.

The black faille panelling on slightly sheer chiffon is another extremely ’20s touch: lending a hint of sex appeal to an otherwise modest frock.

Now, of course, we come to the important part.  The rating.  How will Patou’s frock rate in comparison to last week’s dress, and the white 1810s of a fortnight ago?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  Thanks in advance!)