New Hampshire’s Vintage Beach Babes (and Boys)

When they gathered at the local swimming hole, or on the beach seaside, they didn’t think of themselves as “beach babes” or anything even remotely close to that.  They often wore as much clothing as they would on a normal day.

It was 1920, and anything else was considered “racy.” By today’s standards, their clothing, their attitudes, and even their terminology is vintage.

In the early to mid-1920s women wore knee length bathing gowns, with knee high stockings and regular shoes, or sometimes bathing shoes. The men wore boxer-style bathing trunks and mainly sleeved shirts.  Some times the men just rolled up their pants, and enjoyed the water “as is.”

By the 1940s the bathing suit had lost a bit of cloth.  Socks and shoes were no longer worn. During World War II, the girls back home didn’t want to be outdone by the pinup girls. And so they cautiously posed for their “fellas.”

A bit of New Hampshire trivia:
Considering that the average temperature of the Atlantic Ocean in summer at Hampton Beach is between 10-20 degrees F., it is freaking amazing that folks go in the water at all.  [see chart]. [PS: My good friend Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, has informed me of the following: “On your beach post, the temperature graph shows 10 to 20 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit.  The corresponding temps are 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, (see the right hand margin of the graph).  10-20 F would mean that ice was formed on the surface…  Cold enough to freeze the niblets off whatever and shrivel appendages.  —-Cheers — Randy.”]


P.S. This article was written as a submission for the 49th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, “Swimsuit Edition,” located at Creative Gene. The deadline to submit YOUR article is June 1st, 2008. Surely you have a few photographs of bathing suit-clad relatives in your photograph albums. Don’t be late!

The bathing beauties found in this article are (in order of appearance):
(1) Photo of my Great-Aunt Mertie (Ryan) Miller, circa 1920 at Rye, New Hampshire. Notice the shoes, heels and all.

(2) Photo of my Great-Aunt Emma (Ryan) Ryan, and my great-grandfather, Patrick John “Jackson” Ryan at the ocean, Rye, New Hampshire.

(3) Photo of my Great-Aunt Nellie Ryan (top row far left) and her friends seaside, Rye, New Hampshire, circa 1920.
(4) Photo of my mother, Mary, dressed as a “hula-girl,” in Manchester New Hampshire. This photograph was sent to my father who was stationed in Hawaii at the end of WWII. I can hear her whispering to me from heaven, “You posted WHAT on the Internet!?!?!”

[Originally published Wed 28 May 2008]

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3 Responses to New Hampshire’s Vintage Beach Babes (and Boys)

  1. Kara McLeod says:

    That first photo is definitely earlier than 1920, or your aunt is wearing something fabulously out of fashion by 1920 as a gag. That’s what they were wearing in 1910.

    • Janice Brown says:

      These photographs were all in an album some dated in the 1920s. They were outdated kind of women, and were still trapped in the 1940s when I knew them in the 1960s. It is always possible that the photograph was an earlier one placed in the album in the middle of later ones. Indeed the suit looks older than the ones worn. Most in the photographs were working as house servants and would not have had the fund to buy the latest outfits. It is not impossible that she just wore a suit that was 10 or more years old. Thank you for commenting, so glad you are reading and also you have a good eye for dating clothing 🙂

      • Kara McLeod says:

        I am a costume historian and have been teaching the history of fashion for 18 years. It’s much easier to say when a fashion stated than when it ended, because here are always outliers wearing older clothes but someone wearing this suit in the 20s would have been obviously, visibly and in some contexts comically out of date.

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