The Lady's World (1887). This image appeared as part of an article in which the writer stated that 'those three wheels are a talisman to unlock to her a perfect fairyland of pleasure, undreamt of before, though its borders may have lain close at hand all her life'.
In the 1880s and 1890s, the dress-reform movement became associated with sport and fitness. Sport, particularly for women, demanded specialist clothing which aided rather than inhibited movement. Advocates of sport (in particular golf, tennis and cycling) and suitable sporting gear for women were not necessarily adherents of rational dress, however.
The tricycle began to be used in the 1880s, and bicycling had become very popular by the 1890s. It was good for health, mobility and, for women particularly, gave a new found freedom. Typically, the experience of cycling elicited a thrilled response from new riders. Cycling became a popular pastime for those with the time and the money, and it became very fashionable to cycle in Battersea Park in London on a Sunday morning. The women's press generally gave a great deal of space to cycling, offering advice on cycling clubs, routes and clothing. Perhaps not surprisingly, magazines for girls and young women were particularly prolific on this topic. In an article on 'Girl Heroines', the Girls' Realm (1899) showed a picture of one of the heroines on her bike, reinforcing the respectability and popularity of cycling. When the topic appeared at the cheaper end of the market it was often offered as a vicarious pleasure--the pleasure of learning about the pursuits of those with leisure time--because sport was a socially prestigious activity.
An article in Woman's Life entitled 'Where Society Women Learn to Cycle' (1895).
It describes a Cycling School in Knightsbridge where many of the rich and famous have learned to cycle, including Sarah Grand, the author and activist: "when able to ride, 'my lady', exercises her skill by dodging the teachers, who purposely get in her way, and in winding in and out of obstacles provided…Excellent practice for street riding…but, at times, a trifle rough on the instructor".
Cycling costume, consisting of Dr Jaeger's hygienic woollen underwear, a divided petticoat or skirt, or knickerbockers under a skirt, were usually recommended but, according to Woman's Life, not a single lady (out of 5,000) came to the Knightsbridge School in rational costume. To its dismay The Lady Cyclist reported that the actress Ellen Terry could not be persuaded to wear rationals. The secret of the respectable cyclist was to remain womanly at all times. Conscious of some of the current prejudices about the 'manly woman', The Queen advised that the wheelwoman (as she was often known, and with a magazine of that title all of her own) in her tailored costume need not be 'horsey', or 'masculine' or 'fast' in her appearance.
The reformers also took to cycling, for the same reasons as everyone else, but their call for rational cycling clothing was controversial. The founder of the Rational Dress Society, Lady Harberton, was a keen cyclist, and she revived the by then obsolete Rational Dress Society with the Rational Dress League in 1898. The League had the almost express purpose of furthering the campaign for cycling bloomers.
What did the reformers achieve?
Whilst the reformers had succeeded in raising and deepening the debate about women's dress and health, they did not make any permanent or serious impact on the advance of fashion. But for them, the rejection of what they saw as the pernicious and repressive aspects of fashion meant a step towards emancipation, and to be emancipated was what it was to be truly modern. A popular device used by feature writers on fashion, both adherents and reformers, was to connect it to the world of politics. Both fashion and politics shared a connection to change and to progress, and it was towards this particular kind of advancement on which both groups set their sights. Fashion as represented in women's magazines was always connected to commodity culture and to modernity, whatever the nature of the debate.
The bicycle was preceded by the 'dandy horse', a vehicle which moved by the thrust of the rider's feet on the ground. It was invented in Germany and brought to England in 1818 whereupon public interest quickly grew. In 1840, Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scot, improved on the idea by building a vehicle which was propelled by foot treadles and incorporated cranks, driving rods and handlebars. Then in 1865, Pierre Lallement designed and built the first real 'bicycle,' which was made entirely of wood and had pedals applied directly to the front wheel. This model, known as the 'boneshaker' was soon given ironclad wooden tire-rims, the front wheel larger than the rear, which would survive the damage inflicted by the cobblestone roads of the day. Over the next few years many improvements were made. These included a light, hollow steel frame, solid rubber tires and long spokes. The 'Ordinary' bicycle of the 1870s sported a front wheel which was enlarged for a smoother ride whilst the rear wheel was reduced for speed. By the 1880s a bicycles were being produced with front wheels that had a 64 inch (123 cm) diameter. Despite these innovations, speed was still limited by the length of the rider's legs, and their strength. In 1885, the English machinist James Starley produced the first safety bicycle. This form had wheels of approximately the same size and a chain which connected the pedals with the rear wheels. Following the invention of the pneumatic tire in 1888, the safety bicycle became the public's bicycle of choice.
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|From Crinoline, to Crinolette, to Bustle||Over-Structured Opulence to the 'Healthy Corset'|
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