Last weekend, my boyfriend and I spent some time in Dresden. This city is very beautiful, with its Baroque architecture and wonderful museums. Even though Dresden was almost completely destroyed due to bombing in the second world war, over the last 60 years it’s being restored to its former glory. Last weekend we were lucky enough to find an exhibition being held in the Stellhof by Saxonia 100, of vintage bicycles and antique cars. The exhibition showed bikes from as early as 1817, through the 19th century and early 20th century, finishing off with bikes from the GDR. Over the weekend there was a large group of vintage bike and car enthusiasts who drove around Dresden. It was a stroke of luck to find this wonderful exhibit, as my boyfriend’s new hobby is building vintage bycicles, by collecting old parts and piecing them together to create an almost original piece. I’m naturally all for it, as I’m very happy to create our costumes for it. His costume is easy as his bike is from the 1920s. His costumes will be: shirt, tie, waist coat and plus fours (trousers that extend 10 cm below the knee). My costume is a bit more difficult.
It really depends on how old my bike will be, but I’ve asked nicely if it could be somewhere between 1910 – 1920s. I’m very interested in the subject of woman and bicycles because in my eyes I see this form of transport to be a way to freedom and equality for women. When the bicycle was originally invented, it was invented for men. One of the earliest bikes with pedals came in around 1860s from France, named the Boneshaker because it was incredibly uncomfortable to ride. In 1870 the Boneshaker was replaced with a different bike known as high wheel, or penny farthing. The front wheel was very high and the back wheel small, so getting onto it needed some skill. Which meant a woman in her tight corset and big skirts and bustles would not be able to ride it.
After spending time in Dresden, we did something else I love – Fleamarket shopping! I found a great book by Michael Polster called The Fahrad Book, there is a chapter about woman and bikes and it was very interesting to read. So I did a bit more research. The bike similar to what we know today was invented by John Kemp Starly, the bike was named The Rover Safety Bicycle. Starley grew up making sewing machines with his father. In 1885, realising how dangerous the penny farthing was, he created a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, making it more stable to ride. This meant woman would also be able to mount a bike to learn how to ride it. It was met with a lot of resistance, as it was seen as unwomanly for a lady to be seen doing such a thing. Times were changing though and more and more women were looking for equality. With the changes to life style, meant that proper clothing needed to be worn. One of the earliest reformers of dress was feminist Amelia Jenkis Bloomer, (see black and white picture left) who began to wear loose trousers, also know as bloomers. However this style didn’t really catch on, it was only worn by feminists and dress reformers. It wasn’t until the 1890s onwards more woman were taking up sport, especially tennis and cycling, so practical clothing was needed. Cycling in tight corsets and long skirts was dangerous. Women adopted wearing baggy trousers or divided skirts, long tailored jackets and loosening their corsets. It was seen as unfeminine and actions were taken to try and abolish women from the sport. However, as time passed, seeing women riding around on bikes in practical clothing became normal, and this meant the woman could move around freely and this was something new for her. Corsets were not abolished completely but new “sports corsets” were designed that were less stiff and not worn as tight as corsets from earlier days. A few years ago I visited an amazing corset exhibition on Symington Corsetry in Leicestershire. Here’s a photo I took of a sports corset . The caption read:
“c.1900. An avant-garde design for the sportswoman, this corset includes many features and adaptations to make it suitable for wearing for riding, cycling, tennis and golf. The corset is cut low under the bust to allow for full circular arm movement and high over the hip for riding side saddle.The suspenders are attached and are very long. The boning is limited to the side seams, where it runs the panels where the boning is shorter and contained within the central section of the corset.”
Museum ref. B33
Sport had a huge influence on women’s dress, which meant attitudes were changing to the feminine ideal. The ideal was slowly becoming a healthy, well cared for body and would eventually become free of the support of corsets. I will continue to write about this subject in future posts as I find this very interesting!
As for my costume, I rather like these brown leather cycling boots (1895-1900) and brown cycling suit (1896–98) both at the Met Museum.