the skinny on skinny dipping
Once upon a time, this sort of carry on was no big deal. But the morality crisis that swept through 19th century Britain like an especially virulent dose of syphilis put a stop to the clothes-free frolicking of the masses. Everyone, particularly well to do ladies, was expected to don neck-to-knee bathers and use a bathing machine – a roofed and walled wooden cart that could be rolled into the ocean – when entering the murky depths, in order, as one publication from the era explains, “to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.”
Delicacy? Pah. I’ll take what Francis Kilvert, an English clergyman of the same era who charmingly diarised rural life in the 1800s, described as the “delicious feeling of freedom in stripping in the open air and running down naked to the sea.”
The 6th, 26th and 32nd American presidents (that’s John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Benjanmin Franklin) were also fans. In fact, it seems the embargo on nude swimming was actually an embargo on nude female swimming; before the YMCA began admitting females in the 1960s, swimming trunks were not allowed in the pools. In some English boys’ schools, nude swimming was compulsory until the 1970s.