As noted before on this blog, I collect antique dolls as well as bathing beauty figurines. It is always a special serendipity when my two collections overlap. This 17-inch tall French fashion models an antique doll-size bathing suit from the 1860s or 70s. Such dolls were the Barbie dolls of their day, and their exquisite and costly wardrobes included every article of accessory or clothing a proper lady would need in her trousseau, including a demure, but fashionable, bathing suit for a visit to the beach. Her two-piece bathing suit, consisting of a long tunic top and full trousers, is beautifully tailored of canvas with wool ribbon trim. All the buttons, even on her cuffs, are fully functional. I added the snood, stockings, and leather slippers--although they are far newer than the suit itself, they are appropriate for the period. Finding authentic early doll fashions is far from easy, and bathing suits are exceptionally scarce.
Although sea bathing was long considered to have curative powers, as the Victorian era saw a rise in the middle class and leisure time, trips to the beach became more merry than medicinal. Fashion magazines printed pictures of the latest in swimwear, balancing modesty and mode. This illustration is from the July1864 edition of Godey's Lady's Book, a monthly women's magazine published from 1830 to 1878. Typically, such bathing suits were made from wool, serge, or flannel.
The doll herself has a bisque swivel head on a matching shoulder plate and a kid body. She wears her original mohair wig, which perfectly matches her eyebrows. Although marked only "4" on her shoulder plate, she is attributed to the French manufacturer Masion Jumeau. Her exaggerated elongated almond-shaped eyes, dubbed "wrap around" by collectors, are typical of early Jumeau fashions.