Since our program this month (Monday, May 16th) will be on bathing suits and our summer exhibit will also showcase vintage bathing suits, I decided to look at a few Carolina Beach bathers in their suits.
In the early 1900s salt water bathing was considered to be therapeutic and a very healthy practice much like going to a spa. As trains began to crisscross our country, it was so easy for those who lived inland to get to the seashore. And get there they did!
This card (right) is postmarked 1926 and the writer has “been in twice”. The ladies’ suits were made of wool jersey with matching knee length bloomers underneath. They wore them with stockings, bathing shoes and caps. Men’s suits were very similar without the accessories.
Notice the one lady sitting on the sand in a dress and hat as if she had just left church. The man to her right appears to be sitting on a tractor tire inner tube. Some bathers at the water’s edge are also sitting in the sand enjoying the waves and they come in and go out. Most people at this time could not swim. The experience was more like being in a huge tub of salt water, hence the term “bathing”.
(left) This is a photo of two men and a boy at Carolina Beach in 1934 wearing suits they rented for the day. They are all wool knit. The boy’s suit has large cut outs under the arms. The man in the middle rented his suit from the Pavilion bath house right on the boardwalk. It probably cost him about 25 cents for the day and would have included a space for his street clothes and a shower after his dip.
The man on the right rented his from Batson’s Bath House just down the boardwalk from the pavilion. In the winter these wool suits would have been packed away with moth balls adding that aroma to the wet wool smell the next summer.
This damaged but nonetheless wonderful photo (right) is of a father and his twin sons at Carolina Beach. The father’s suit appears to be a tunic over shorts, but is really all one piece made to look that way. The twins in their straw hats are wearing suits that look like T-shirts and shorts. Again they are one piece. All three suits have stripes and would have been made of wool knit fabric.