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Historical Footage Captures a Day at the Beach at the Turn of the 20th Century

Michele Debczak
Beachgoers circa 1891.
Beachgoers circa 1891. / Paul Martin/GettyImages
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If sand and sunburns are your biggest pet peeves when you visit the beach, count yourself lucky. A century ago, you would have had to jump through some uncomfortable hoops just to dip your toes in the water. To see just how different a day at the beach was at the turn of the 20th century, check out this historical video below.

According to the YouTube channel Real Documentary, this footage was likely shot some time between 1896 and 1906 at the beaches of Étretat and Le Tréport in Normandy, France. A.I. enhancement shows the beachgoers in all their buttoned-up glory.

Decades before the bikini was invented, women wore several layers of clothing to the shore, including bloomers, stockings, slippers, and wool dresses. Such attire was still considered risqué for the time, and bathers preserved their modesty by changing into “bathing machines.” The enclosed huts doubled as a closet and a means of transportation. Once the woman inside had changed into her swimsuit, the box was rolled right up to the water where she could disembark discreetly. The footage above features some of these tents in their stationary state.

This video captures part of what it was like to take a beach vacation in the early 1900s. Other unsavory aspects, like the proliferation of raw sewage offshore, weren't caught on film. Here are more reasons why a day at the beach in the past could be far from idyllic.

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