Cosmopolitan Magazine, August 1895
Much of Western society found they could accept skirts adapted for riding, but knickers, bloomers, and trouser variations worn without a skirt over top proved to be much more controversial. The construction of these ensembles was based on loose trousers, but they were typically so voluminous that they would often look like a skirt while the woman was standing next to her bicycle. This aided in conforming the look to societal standards. Lady’s magazines like Cosmopolitan, featured images of bloomer cycling costumes, thus propelling its familiarity and acceptance, yet sometimes featuring articles with conflicting opinions on the ensemble. The Western world was intrigued by this new form of dress for women, but not everyone was ready to adopt or accept its integration.
In an August 1895 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Mrs Reginald De Koven wrote:
As to dress-reform, the possibilities would, indeed, seem limitless. Since woman has taken up the bicycle it has become more and more apparent every day that its use demands a more or less radical change in their costume. Moderate women have met the demand with gaiters and a three-quarter skirt — one reaching perhaps to the ankles, but even this compromise leaves much to be desired in the way of freedom, and there is some danger of entangling the skirt. Numbers of women who ride a great deal have adopted the short skirt costume, and the bloomer, or knickerbocker costume, is not without popularity in this country. In France, however, it is much more general. For hard and constant riding the short skirt has such a decided advantage over that of three-quarter length that women who are real lovers of the bicycle can hardly be blamed for its use.
The mention of dress reform is significant here. The result of the cycling costumes for women were able to inadvertently perpetuate the women’s dress reform movement, as women of all classes wished to ride and could not physically do so with ease in their usual day wear. Lady riders introduced an entirely new category of dress for women, and one that encouraged a healthy lifestyle. There was no clear cut formula for the proper cycling attire, and women often turned to magazines for instruction and guidance. The magazines themselves seemed to be uncertain at times, and understandably so, as this was so much of what the bicycle represented and provided for women was complex and unfamiliar.
De Koven continued in Cosmopolitan:
The question of the proper dress for bicycling is still in doubt. The English women who first took kindly to the wheel, have used in riding a modification of the shooting dress which has been for so many years in common use among them. This dress consists of knickerbockers, with leggings, a short skirt to the top of the boots, and a Norfolk or cutaway jacket. French women who during the past year have taken so enthusiastically to the practice of bicycling, have characteristically adopted many fantastic and daring dresses: tight trousers, military costumes, Oriental, and all variety of theatrical dress. In America, the present tendency is toward the adoption of short skirts. In smaller cities like Cleveland, Buffalo, and notably in Chicago and Boston, the bloomer costume has been largely used. This tendency must be deprecated. They are a slight gain in convenience, but there is an enormous loss of the gracefulness which every woman should religiously consider.
The article further advises knickerbockers instead of petticoats, gaiters, comfortable shoes, and bicycle gloves to complete a lady’s ensemble. The article does not offer one singular look as the style of choice, but several adaptations that have been accepted. The bloomer costume is presented as an example, and an image (above) complements this, but the author has hesitations. This form of dress was still somewhat shocking to many in 1895, as women would not have worn pants at this time and the bloomers most closely resembled loose-fitting trousers. These were the most practical items for a rider in terms of physical activity, but perhaps not so for a rider’s social relations. The ensemble a women choose strongly depended on the woman as an individual and her comfort level both for the sake of the activity and her adherence to expectations.
I would highly recommended reading the full article in Cosmopolitan, which is available online, thanks to the wonderful Digital History Project
Cosmopolitan Magazine, August 1895
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