I'm writing a MG novel (MG is aimed at a core audience of Middle Grade readers aged 8 to 12) set in Northern England, but I don't live there, so I'm not familiar with the local sense of propriety. In the scene I'm working on, two kids from a small (500 inhabitants), rural village decide to go for a swim in a nearby lake. It is a common place for the locals to go swimming, so kids walking there to swim is a common view.

The kids are at the home of the 12-year-old girl, when they decide to go swimming. For practical reasons, the girl changes into her swimsuit, and then they walk to the boy's home where he changes into his swimming trunks. Then both kids walk through the village in their swimwear and over a path through the fields to the lake.

I'm a bit unsure about this. Where I live, when I was small, it was quite common for kids to run around in bathing suits when it was hot in summer, but this has changed and I don't see kids in swimsuits in town any longer, except for toddlers playing in the fountain on the market place. Older kids aren't as carefree today as we were, and they dress properly on their way to the public pool.

But how is that in England (today)? Would an English reader reading my book think that that's not how English kids would behave? Or would they find it completely normal?

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    $\begingroup$ To answer your more meta question about whether world building questions about the real world are okay: worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6161/… in short yes, but there are exceptions. $\endgroup$
    – Anketam
    Jun 21, 2018 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know about England, but in Romania it would be perfectly natural in some places (mostly in villages in the plains, near the Danube or other sizeable river) and quite strange in other places (for example in the mountains). But then over here we still allow children to walk to school and back by themselves... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 21, 2018 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ On/Off topic discussion: worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6286/… $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Jun 21, 2018 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ VTR - it's a weird case, but it seems to be about building a world, even if the scope of that world is an English Village $\endgroup$
    – Pingcode
    Jun 24, 2018 at 6:39

4 Answers 4


In the summer, in a coastal town or a small town with a known outdoor swimming location such as a waterfall, river or other suitable pond, nobody would really think twice about it.

If such features were not available then people might look askance. It doesn't work the same way for swimming pools.

Basically it's normal if it's normal. If there's somewhere the kids swim then it would be as reasonable to walk to the location in swimming kit and flip-flops as to change at said location.

Though your character is probably at an age where she's becoming self-conscious about this so it's as much about the psychology of teenagers as appropriate dress codes.

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    $\begingroup$ I've upvoted your answer as I think it's better than mine! The proximity of a known natural swimming place would change opinions. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2018 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Seconding @Ynneadwraith -- in Honolulu, nobody thinks twice about folks out on the street in swimwear $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Jun 21, 2018 at 22:51

As an Englishman reading your extract, I can say that the impression I got was that the children must live in the countryside. Probably in a small town, where most of the people know each other. A place where children could go somewhere unsupervised wearing something that would likely make parents feel very worried were they living, say, in a city or town.

Re-reading the question I see that that's exactly where you've set it! I might still expect that they would wear their swimwear underneath their clothes, or just swim in their clothes. Having them walk through the town in swimwear would give the impression of innocence on their part, a feeling that they lived in a rural idyll, and/or a feeling of unease and concern depending on the tone of the rest of the world around them.

A cursory google for evidence of whether this impression is grounded in truth or not has produced a veritable mountain of dross 'debating' whether overprotective parenting is harming the next generation. If I find something that's actually worth something academically I'll include it!

  • $\begingroup$ As a fellow Englishman, a small countryside village is exactly the sort of vibe I got from this question. Supervision probably wouldn't be as much of a concern because the lake is probably only a short walk away from the village. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Jun 21, 2018 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ The kids might also wear clothes or a towel over their swimsuits on the way, not out of modesty, but because the weather in England is changeable even during the Summer. While the lake will not suddenly change temperature it might start and stop raining three times before you get there! I'd expect them to bring towels in either case and wrap them around themselves as appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jun 21, 2018 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron I was just about to post exactly that :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Jun 21, 2018 at 16:51

In my experience, my comfort wearing a swimsuit changes on a street-by-street basis. So the particular route through the village matters. A street with grass and trees and buildings loosely packed feels fine:

enter image description here While a street with shops up against the sidewalk and no greenery feels very off:

enter image description here

If I was in a swimsuit I'd feel compelled to avoid the street in that second image even if it meant taking a longer detour to stay on streets more like the first.

I had not really put this instinct into actual rules before I thought about this question, but I'm quite sure I had this instinct by age 12. Around age 10 is when I started noticing such things so if the boy is younger than that he won't care.

So it's plausible as long as they take streets that feel, I suppose you could say "relaxed", "country" or "homely" and avoid streets that are "downtown" or narrow, busy, or commercial zoned.

If I'm reading about your character walking down the first street, all it tells me is she lives in a comfortable village and is a reasonably carefree child.

If your character walked down a street like the second image in her swimsuit and didn't feel uncomfortable, she's either tone-deaf to a degree that seems concerning, or positively batty.


I don't know about northern England.

When I was a child my family used to walk in our bathing suits three blocks to the beach in Cape May, New Jersey, USA which is a town with a permanent population of thousands and many summer visitors. But we would wear normal clothes to walk to the library or the shopping area.

But that is thousands of miles and decades away from your setting.


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