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Natational Dress: Functionality, Fashion and the Fracturing of Separate Spheres in Victorian Britain

Day, DJ (2016) Natational Dress: Functionality, Fashion and the Fracturing of Separate Spheres in Victorian Britain. Annals of Leisure Research, 19. ISSN 2159-6816

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Abstract

In 1873, The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine extolled the values of swimming for women and gave advice on the best form of bathing dress, one which preserved modesty and met the demands of contemporary fashion. This essentially impractical type of bathing outfit has been the subject of much of the historiography surrounding female swimming costumes but it was not the only swimming dress on show during the “long” Victorian period. The women of all classes who participated in more serious swimming required something functional rather than fashionable while working-class professional natationists, who appeared regularly in water shows throughout the country, wore attire that combined functionality, tight to the body while allowing freedom of movement, with public appeal, a critical consideration for female exhibitors. Their activities and costumes challenged prevailing notions of “separate spheres” and this paper explores Victorian aquatic dress in the context of class, gender and social space.

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