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1880s Beach Fashions

Updated: Aug 17, 2019

Several years ago, I found this tintype of ten women in a stack of photos at a small ephemera store in Roanoke. At the time, I researched it, then preserved it for future study. It's still one of my favorites in my collection.

Tintype, Rockaway, 1887
Rockaway, 1887

I pulled it out today, mainly because I just got back from a trip to Maine, where the seaside is rocky and the water chilly. The background of the girls and the inscription on the back reminded me of our quick jaunt to Kennebunkport Beach on the way to Sunday River in Newry, Maine:




Several years ago when I researched the photo, I found that Rockaway was a small stretch of beach now located in Queens, NY. Regardless of the date inscribed on the back, the women’s clothing is very typical for the upper-class of this time.

Looking through fashion plates from 1887, you can see the resemblances not only in the clothing, but in the millinery as well. These 'flowerpot hats' were meant to match a variety of tailored outfits, as they were costly to make.

While I'm still looking for the photographer and his Rockaway booth, I have determined that the girls are sitting in front of a backdrop made to look like the sea, complete with a painted steamboat in the right back.


A little history about the girls’ setting: In the 1870s, the Rockaways, as the little stretch of seaside villages were affectionately called, grew in popularity, drawing wealthy and prominent summer visitors to its sandy shores. Steamboats, and later a railroad station in the late 1880s, helped shuttle wealthy summer tourists from Manhattan and Brooklyn to the southern shore of Long Island. In the 1880s, the Rockaways rivaled Coney Island in popularity as New York's top summer resort.

Amusement parks, outdoor shows, shooting ranges, dancing halls, and baths lined the beachfront, and provided visitors with entertainment. Even a boardwalk style iron pier, built in 1880, extended out 1,080 feet into the sea, providing additional entertainment.

Have questions about 1880s fashions? Have an idea of about the Rockaway girls? Let me know at!

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