Is This Film of Women in 'Scandalous' Swimsuits Really From 1898?

There's something about this film that strikes me as strange. According to the film archive company British Pathé, it shows beach bathers in England in 1898. Supposedly, people of the time were scandalized by their "wanton display of bare flesh." But I get the feeling that it's all a big joke. And a more recent one at that.

Have a look for yourself:

The things about the film that make me suspicious:

  1. The film is really clean. It's either the most well preserved film we have from the 19th century, or it's from much more recent times. Other films we have from 1898 tend to look really choppy and dirty.
  2. The titles have the style of a film from the 1920s or 30s, not the 1890s.
  3. The exclamation points after "wanton display of bare flesh!!!" (at 1:53) seem like it's trying to make clear that it's a joke about old fashioned swimsuit styles being scandalous.

Believe it or not, people did have a sense of humor before 1950.

Illustration for article titled Is This Film of Women in Scandalous Swimsuits Really From 1898?

Some people have pointed out to me that the year comes from British Pathé itself, a respected film archive, so it must be true. But British Pathé has been wrong before. A few years back I had to debunk claims made about a film from 1922 that they said showed a "mobile phone." It was actually a radio.

What do you think? Is it possible this film is from 1898? Or is this a joke from something like the 1930s that went over our heads? And perhaps more interestingly, do you think people of the 22nd century will confuse our parody videos from the 2010s as being from something like the 1980s?


GIF by Michael Hession


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Matt Novak

Twitter user Janet Lindenmuth points to this video from 1934 which uses the footage above as an example of bathing suit fashions from "25 years ago." If that's correct, it would date the footage to around 1909.

That might not be correct either, but it's certainly more plausible than 1898. It's also possible that this film supposedly from 1909 was shot in 1934 exclusively for this film, meant to show older swim fashions.