This month I am highlighting the invention of a new product in the 19th century. Have you ever used the term mackintosh to describe a coat? I’ve used the term myself and was curious about the origins.
In this case, the product is actually mackintosh fabric which would be used in constructing the coat, although today the term is often synonymous with raincoat. The fabric is rubber coated and prevents rain water from penetrating its surface. In the Journal of Education in 1907, contributor R. W. Wallace wrote,
“If Charles Goodyear – the father of the rubber industry in America – could visit one of the great rubber factories of the country to-day, he would be astounded at the phenomenal development of the industry […]. To so many uses is rubber put to-day, that the standing problem in the business world on both sides of the Atlantic is how to get enough of the raw material to meet the ever-enlarging demand for rubber goods. There are indispensable to modern life in a thousand ways, contributing to its protection and comfort in more forms than one could easily catalog.”
Flying in the 1900s was not for the faint of heart. It was relatively so new, the Wright brothers having just sustained the first heavier-than-air aircraft in flight in 1903, and required such skill that crashes were commonplace. The cockpits were uncovered in the open air (no seatbelt) so if the plane were to flip upside-down unexpectedly, pilots could fall out. Not surprisingly, because of the risk and skill involved in piloting a plane, this was considered to be a man’s domain although there were still brave women undeterred.
Not likely to be hired as pilots, adventurous women would often initiate their own air shows and stunt flying, called “barnstorming.” As you can imagine, at that time, not only did spectators want to see the death-defying stunts but also to watch them performed by a female pilot, or aviatrix was an added novelty. As the 20th century progressed, female pilots evolved from barnstorming stunts to achieving new records in flight. Throughout the Femme Fashion Forward period (up until 1930) flying was still dangerous in many regards, and it took certain amount of courage that few possessed.
These women were brave and defied the norm, but often did so with an irresistible flare. Pushing the boundaries of what women were believed capable of, and perhaps with an enviable level of confidence and bravery, it’s no wonder many others looked to them as inspiration. Here are 5 women in particular that you may not have heard of, but at that time were widely known for their skills in the air. From a fashion history perspective, I think it is important to note what these women were wearing, which was often a blend of clothing from the “male” flying domain and womenswear.