Why is it Called a Bathing Suit?

Why is it called a Bathing Suit?
Why is it called a “bathing suit”?

The garments we wear when swimming in pools, the ocean, or other bodies of water are commonly known as “bathing suits”, but why? Where did this name originate? The simple answer to that question is that “bathing” suits are named for the English spa city Bath, but since this is an interesting question let’s talk a little bit more about why.

Many aspects of American culture can be traced back to England. Our shared language has played an especially important role in fostering close ties between the two nations. As words and expressions evolved in England they frequently made their way into the American lexicon.

Bath is located in the county of Somerset, in the southeast part of England. It was here at the end of the early modern period (15th through 18th centuries) that people flocked to enjoy the therapeutic waters of the natural thermal springs that England’s Roman conquerors beautified in the first century AD. The elaborate bathing complex and temple built by the Romans in honor of a local water goddess Sulis helped to ensure that the settlement would be remembered even after the Roman facilities fell into disuse and were buried underground in subsequent centuries.

Under Roman rule, the spa was called “Aquae Sulis” which meant “waters of Sulis”. For obvious reasons, the adoption of Christianity in the British Isles brought about the elimination of “Sulis” from the appellation of this ancient watering place. Over the next several hundred years the name of the settlement evolved due to changes in rulership by different ethnic groups. The name Bath was adopted during the Middle Ages. It is derived from the German word “bad” meaning “bath”, and the Old English term “bæŏ” denoting “the immersion of a body in water”, or “a quantity of water for bathing”.

In the 18th-century fashionable people re-discovered Bath and turned into a resort. Jane Austin writes about the city during this period in its history. Wealthy and well-to-do visitors came to the spa and immersed themselves in its waters to “bathe” attired in what came to be known “bathing costumes”. The words “bath” and “bathe”, based on the place name, eventually grew to be common generic terms, like Kleenex for facial tissue, and Xerox for a photocopy. From this point terms such as “bath salts”, “bathing suit”, and “bath towel” came into being. Initially, they were used only in England but over time became part of the American lexicon.

What is the difference between a “bathing suit” and “swimwear”, or “swimsuit”?

These terms are used interchangeably in Styling by the Sea but may be differentiated when encountered in other in places.

  • Swimsuit – an item of clothing designed to be worn by people engaging in a water-based activity such as swimming, diving, and surfing, or sun-orientated activities, such as sunbathing. Some users associate the term exclusively with a woman’s bathing suit and usually only refers to a woman’s bathing suit.
  • Bathing suit – most general term, gender-neutral, applies to anything someone might wear while swimming.
  • Swimwear – also gender-neutral, but often used in department stores or in the context of distinguishing among other types of clothing lines (sportswear, formal wear, et
  • Swimming trunks – refers to men’s bathing suits only, it’s understood, but sounds a bit outdated.

Why are they called “suits”?

The use of the term “suit” when referring to garments worn by swimmers and sunbathers, appears to be the result of the fact that they were originally composed of a matched set of individual pieces. The complete costume became known as a bathing “suit” for this reason. It looks as if the name will remain with us for a while.

1940s Swim Suit