Monday, August 3, 2015

Faking a Victorian Mens Bathing Suit on the Cheap – First Try

So you want a Victorian men's bathing suit for lounging around the pool at the steampunk convention, eh? You could buy one of course for $40-$50 online, but let's face it, it's not something you're likely to be wearing to the beach, so cheaper would be better, right? Now you might have noticed that this is marked as, first try. That's because this is based on my first attempt to do one, and I think I might get better results on my second try. Still, this could get you pointed in the right direction.

Let's start by looking at some vintage pics to see what Victorian mens bathing suits looked like. I googled Victorian swimwear and grabbed photos that looked genuine, not modern reproductions of vintage swimwear. To be honest, I'm not a hundred percent sure these are all Victorian. Possibly, some of the following could be later, say 1920s. Still, I think this gives a better idea of the range of Victorian mens swimwear. This is probably what you think of when you picture a Victorian mens bathing suit:

Basically, what we have is horizontal stripes and a one piece union suit with short bottoms and a henley neck/short sleeve t-shirt top.

Let's look at a couple more:

On the left more or less the same thing, still horizontal stripes but a deeper henley neck. It's hard to say, but the one on the left also looks like the top might be a separate shirt (not a one piece). I zoomed way in on the photo, and you l really can't tell for sure. On the right, one piece union suit (I think, it might be two piece as well) with short bottoms and standard tank top.

This is going to be the last one:

Here you have two piece shorts plus a separate tank top. No horizontal stripes except the trim on the bottom of the one in the middle. 

What we're going to shoot for is mix of all of them. Since budget was a consideration, I went the cheapest I could possibly find, one of those 5 t-shirts for $10 places. They didn't have any shorts in t-shirt material, only fleece (sweat shirt material), but at $6 for a pair of shorts I couldn't complain. My first choice on color would have been white, but they didn't have white, so I went with the lightest gray they had. Then grabbed a tank top in a matching color for $4. 

Next was Home Depot for Blue Painter's tape. I got 2 inch wide. You might already have this. Then Michaels for fabric paint, $7 per bottle (I got blue):

Back home, I found some scrap cardboard to make a form to stretch out and make the tank top and shorts lay flat for painting.. Again since cost was a factor, I didn't want to spend any more money than I had to on this. Rather than buy the t-shirt form at Michaels, I opted to make one out of a box I had lying around. This is the result:

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but the shorts are using three pieces of cardboard rather than one (one for the waist and two smaller ones for the legs). If I had it to do over again (and I am going to), I would use a single piece of cardboard for the shorts cut into more or less in the following shape:

Next I put down the blue painter's tape in horizontal stripes. The advantage of using 2-inch wide tape was that it was that I didn't have to use multiple pieces to mask off different areas, though now that think of it, if you used the standard 3/4-inch tape, you could take the same approach and just do narrower stripes. I didn't bother with measuring. I just tried to make sure they were straight. I did fold a little bit of the ends to the back, so I could use that to line up the tape on the back side of the cardboard. That way the stripes appear in the same place on the front and back of the tank top and shorts.

Next, I painted with the tank top and shorts following the manufacturer's instructions (with the exception that I didn't pre-wash beforehand). I wasn't entirely happy with the way they came out. The problem was that the paint was in an ordinary pump spray bottle and not a very good quality one, so you tended to get drops as you can see in the picture.

Part of the problem is the paint started to build up on the nozzle of the spray bottle which made the drips worse. I think it you took a paper towel and cleaned off the nozzle as you worked, that would help. Still, I think you're bound to get drips a little bit anyway. I waited about an hour (or whatever the instructions said) until the paint was dry to touch. Then I took off the blue tape. It looked better than I thought it would, despite the drips. 

The instructions recommended letting it set for 48 hours and then washing before the first use. This is the final result. All things considered, the results are pretty decent.

Final thoughts

I do plan to try it again. After doing this, I noticed that Joanns carried a different brand of fabric paint with an aerosol spray. I want to give it a try and see if the drips are less of a problem. 

The basic technique would be the same but I do have some cog shaped washers that I would like to use as a stencil to get a steampunk design.

Final final thoughts

Last night I tried the stencil thing and the aerosol spray above. The stencil worked great. The aerosol worked great, at first. The spray came out even with less drops. Then as the propellant started to fade, it got worse, way worse than the pump spray bottle. It didn't have enough force to propel the paint out of the can as a mist, but in big drops. I suppose if you used multiple cans, it would great. But I'm guessing it would take three or four cans to do this project which at five bucks a can sort of defeats the purpose of doing it cheaply.


  1. OH MY GOOODDDD I've been looking for a way to do this everywhere, its' like $55 on amazon for one normally. Thank you SO MUCH

  2. These are really great and great idea for creating a good vintage looking swimwear. These men's swim short looks awesome, thanks for sharing this post.