Through the magic (!!!) of Twitter, I discovered a revival in Victorian women’s bicycle fashion. Yes, Dear Readers, it’s true – someone out there is biking around London in Victorian women’s bicycle fashions. As a historian (okay, two degrees in history, even if I don’t do that for my daily job), bicycle rider and sewist of reflective bicycle clothing, I couldn’t be more excited about this!
Dr. Kat Jungnickel is a sociologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, and has recently come out with a book that explores how Victorian women adapted their clothing as they adopted the freedom of the new-fangled bicycle. I ordered it but it hasn’t arrived – I’ll update you once I’ve read it. But better than just research and write about this topic, she’s *recreated* some of the clothing AND made the patterns available for free! <squee!!!> Best part is – the patterns were inspired by patents that Victorian women themselves invented and lodged. How cool is that?! Women’s bike style, now AND then! Inspiration for all of us now.
Some of the clothing has been created with Dashing Tweeds tweed – yes, the reflective stuff! Check it out in her Tweet. One of the skirts converts to a cape as well, predating Cleverhood by over 100 years. Check out the article in the Telegraph for photos and more details. Not only are there some great photos by Charlotte Barnes, there are images of the original patents. Dr. Jungnickel also wrote an article for the Guardian that has examples of other patents, so you get a good idea of what was invented and what she’s had recreated. I also love the photo in the article in The Argus, because you can see the fun printed bloomers under the model’s skirt.
Dr. Jungnickel is doing a book tour in costume and although I doubt she’ll make it to Washington, DC, or even New York, I’d sure love to meet her and talk to her about her research and costumes.
While I was reading about Dr. Jungnickel’s book, I found two other books that are related, sort of. The first is a book called Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes: The Life and Times of Dorothy Peel, OBE. The review doesn’t say much about the bicycles and bloomers part of the title, but if it’s looking at how society changed, bloomers and bicycles are an obvious place to start. The other book is titled Fashioning the Victorians by Rebecca N. Mitchell. A “critical sourcebook,” this pulls together primary sources to examine how fashion changed Victorians and vice versa. This is 100% a topic that I love so I’ll no doubt get my hands on this sometime soon as well.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (as my dad always says), I threw together some bicycle fashion of my own this past weekend. I decided I needed a basic gray skirt so I pulled out some unwanted cotton/poly twill (ordered online and the color wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be) and my trusty Kwik Sew 3877 A-line skirt pattern and cranked it out. I lined it in light blue and of course added reflective piping to the side seams. I love how easy this pattern is, and how surprisingly flattering it is. The twill seems to coordinate with several tops I’ve made, so hopefully I’ll get a ton of use out of it. Wish I’d added pockets though – I always regret it after I decide against it.
It’s not surprising to learn that Victorian women invented their own ways of managing their long dresses and skirts on bicycles; humans are extremely creative and adaptive. It’s so refreshing to see their designs and know that they were trying to solve the same problems that many of the rest of us are working on – how to combine a sport we love with the styles we love. But I’m grateful that we don’t have to work around long wool skirts and corsets!