This multi-part series will examine cycling costumes for women, which began the catalyst for this blog.
Warwick “Perfection Safety Bicycle, USA
Patented in 1888
Minnesota Historical Society Collection
During the last ten years of the nineteenth century about 650,000 bicycles were sold to women in the United States alone. The safety bicycle replaced the less-stable high wheel in the 1880s, and the safer design made the activity more feasible for lady riders. This exploded as a popular activity in the 1890s, and cycling became popular means of sport and recreation for people of all ages and of different classes. It was especially important as a symbol for women who were making bold steps out of traditional domestic lifestyles and into a more active and public life.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the bicycle craze had resulted in a general acceptance of women cyclists and the activity became an essential and life-changing force for many women. Cycling was a fashionable mode of transportation and recreation, and cycling ensembles were influenced by fashions of the time, which many women followed through advertisements and magazines. This included a combination of divided skirts, tailored jackets, bloomers, and shorter hemlines, which would allow for greater freedom of movement, and of course, corresponded with the fashions of the day.
The Charleston Museum Collections
Day ensembles of the 1890s typically focused on bodice decoration as this tweed cycling ensemble reflects. The bodice is ornamented with orange-brown braid frogs and brown velvet, and has leg-of-mutton sleeves (a large puff at the shoulder), which was very fashionable in the 1890s. The gored skirt was also a stylish way to engage in activity, as this creates a smooth top with more width at the bottom of the skirt, making an action, like straddling a bike and pedaling, much easier.
The most prevalent type of ensemble for women riders seemed to be one that most closely resembled their everyday clothing, but with the practical modifications necessary for cycling. Skirts would be adapted to suit their cycling needs– either widened, shortened, or constructed with a different kind of closure, and these would very often conceal bloomers or a loose form of trousers underneath their skirt and petticoats. These adapted skirts were typically paired with a shirtwaist, which was a masculine-inspired blouse that had become very fashionable in the 1890s. Underneath, often layers of petticoats were eliminated, and many women chose to ride without a corset, possible wearing a shirt with light boning, or with a corset adapted for riding. In this way, women could participate in cycling and further engage in public life while maintaining a stylish and relatively modest appearance.
#bicyclecraze #1890s #cycling #cyclingensembles #fashionhistory