This cartoon from the satirical, Punch; or The London Charivari, known for its political and social commentary in the form of humorous illustrations. This particular drawing from June 4, 1898 reads: Lady Cyclist (touring in North Holland). “What a Ridiculous Costume!” This cartoon says a lot about what many of the English thought of women’s cycling ensembles (and many Americans as well).
It was still so unusual to see a woman wearing bloomers, or any bifurcated garment for that matter, and independently moving about town. This athletic appearance was often deemed “mannish,” and the fact that similarities in features are compared between a man and a women in this cartoon underscores this point. Women were not yet at the point of cropping their hair in 1898, but this woman’s low chignon is hidden and makes her hair appear short and boyish. In taking other details of her look into consideration, many women would wear a bow tie with their leg of mutton sleeve shirtwaist as well, a masculine inspired accessory. A belted waist would define a more feminine, trim figure, as this woman displays. As to her bloomers, some of the bolder riders would wear bloomers similar to these, and inevitably display stockinged legs and boots, possibly with protective gaiters, as this rider wears.
In person, the completed look would appear like the image below:
1895, USA, The Kyoto Institute Collections
AC3318 80 21-4, AC5629 87 -20B
Today, we think nothing of women in pants. In the 1890s, even though the bloomers were so voluminous they may more closely resemble a skirt, the physical appearance was still foreign for most of the average population. Punch takes advantage of this shock appeal and translates the humor in this situation as it was understood by much of the Western world. Still, garments like these did persist, and over time, the initial surprise of a split bottom garment for women would seem more common. Of course, it would still be decades before pants for women would become a ubiquitous item.
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