We don't have to take our clothes off to have a good time, but it helps
Mark Haskell Smith uncovers the history of the first organized naturist club.
Naked at Lunch is one man's cracklingly witty, compellingly odd and oddly life-affirming journey into the subculture of nudism. Here Mark Haskell Smith reveals the history of the first organized naturist club.
In 1891, outside of what we now call Mumbai, an Englishman named Charles Crawford and two American brothers formed what would become the first nudist club in history. They called it “The Fellowship of the Naked Trust.” It doesn’t seem like that big a deal today, but this was during the straight-laced and sexually repressed Victorian era, when things like tablecloths were frowningly measured so that the erotic allure of a well-turned table leg might not cause arousal; and, don't forget, it was in India, during the British Raj, where the Anglo community was small and any indiscretion could ruin your career. So what could make a respectable man, a judge no less, suddenly decide to take off his clothes and spend his weekends relaxing in the nude with a couple of like-minded friends?
Over the years, historians of naturism have tried to figure out what, exactly, inspired this first organized social naturist club. Was it the oppression of wearing clothing in the intense heat and humidity of India? Or did these three amigos succumb to some innate inner impulse toward nakedness?
I’d like to put forth a new -- admittedly speculative -- theory taking into account both situational and circumstantial evidence.
The weather, as I said before, was unbearably hot and humid, but to sit outside in the evening was to give your body over to swarms of blood-sucking malaria-infusing mosquitos. Fortuitously, on hand there was tonic water with quinine - the medicinal bark from the
And thus the gin & tonic cocktail came into being. As three young men wearing wool suits with starched collars broil in the tropical heat, they sup from their possibly life-saving concoction. After a couple of drinks, as the alcohol lowers their Victorian inhibitions, one of them decides to loosen his tie and take off his jacket. A couple more sips and the shoes and socks come off. Suddenly, the heat isn’t so unbearable.
I think you can see where this is going.
If my theory is correct -- and there is absolutely no evidence that it is -- then the birth of nonsexual social nudism could very well have been inspired by
You can test my theory by creating your own historical re-enactment of the anecdotal birth of organized naturism by mixing a gin and tonic and going out into your backyard on a hot day. Maybe bring a book with you. And a lot of sun cream.
For added enjoyment, try this recipe served at a bookstore in Dallas, Texas called The Wild Detectives.
Spanish Gin & Tonic
3 oz Gin (I prefer Plymouth)
4 oz Tonic Water (Fever Tree)
Slice of grapefruit
In the great wandering tradition of Bill Bryson, Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson, journalist Mark Haskell Smith strips down the world of social nudism in a hilarious, wildly entertaining and profoundly enlightening book about those who renounce clothing and embrace what lies beneath.