We all that know the Victorians were a bunch of uptight prudes. In the late-19th century, women weren’t even allowed to vote, so how enlightened could they really be? People back then probably got arrested at the beach for showing their knees, right? Actually, while the Victorians—like everybody before and since—had their hangups, their all-too-human sexuality tended to come out in ways that modern people find really bizarre. For example:
Gentlemen Never Took Off Their Coats Around Ladies; Totally Got Naked With Each Other
Have you ever noticed how, in nearly every picture from the Victorian age, the men are all wearing jackets and coats? This is especially the case when the picture is of men posing in the presence of ladies. The reason is simple: B.O. In an age when hygiene was largely optional and bathing every day was in the domain of obsessive-compulsives, some kind of stink-control mechanism was sorely needed, and that mechanism was an elaborate social etiquette governing the exact protocol for when and where to cover up the stank. To quote a couple of rules from one website dedicated to all things Victorian, a gentleman:
“Should never remove his coat while standing, sitting, riding, or walking with a lady.
Shall never ask a lady to dance if he has his coat removed.”
Given how uptight these people were about armpits, you could assume that they had a similar attitude toward butts. But you would be wrong. Victorian men and women may have undressed behind screens rather than in front of their spouses, but all bets were off, apparently, at the beach, where just about everybody went fully nude.
Here’s a Victorian minister of the freaking church complaining in 1873 about all the prudes who keep trying to bum him out whenever he goes for naked strolls on the beach:
“[He complains about] the detestable custom of bathing drawers that are now becoming de rigeur.”
“[T]he young ladies strolling near seemed to have no objection.”