Reviving Victorian Women’s Bicycle Fashion

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.

I hope Ms. Barnes doesn’t mind me sharing her photo from the Telegraph – it’s too wonderful to not share!

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.

In the Guardian, Dr. Jungnickel shared this 1895 patent by Alice Bygrave (photo by Handout) – how cool is this?!?

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.

Pretty basic – sorta like a flight attendant’s skirt…

“Signature” bicycle trio stitch

Lined in light blue

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!

A la francaise – new skirt worn with Ligne 8 striped jersey purchased from Bike Pretty and Cole Haan oxfords – and a rhinestoned beret to add extra flare!

Assembling My Fall Capsule Collection Sewing List

It’s almost the end of August, the unofficial end of the summer, and I can’t stop obsessing over what I want to sew in the next few months. (Ignore the fact that I haven’t finished my summer sewing!) This season I am determined to stick to a “capsule collection” of items, to create basic garments that coordinate with each other. The idea behind capsule collections, or capsule wardrobes, is that you really only need a handful of pieces to create dozens of different looks. I really love the idea of hyper-focused collection of clothes, and this is why I constantly weed out my aforementioned closet. My challenge will be to create seven pieces that coordinate, can be worn in the office, and all have reflective details so that I will be extra visible as I bike home in the earlier sunset hours. Oh, and trying to stick to the plan will be a big challenge – I am sooo easily distracted by colors and patterns and designs and….

I already ordered this corduroy from JoAnn Fabrics - I couldn't help it, it was 60% off and I love the print! It is described as being gray and teal but that's not what it looks like online, so I guess I'll be surprised when it arrives!

I already ordered this corduroy from JoAnn Fabrics – I couldn’t help it, it was 60% off and I love the print! It is described as being gray and teal but that’s not what it looks like online, so I guess I’ll be surprised when it arrives!

I started hunting for patterns with some criteria in mind:

  1. I need some outerwear, since as the weather gets cooler, I always end up covering my fun reflective things.
  2. I really want to perfect pants fit, so I need to take the time to slowly make a basic pair of pants.
  3. I want a few tops that coordinate with both a skirt and a basic pair of pants.
  4. The patterns need fun ways to incorporate any of my reflective fabrics and trims.

I have had the Vogue 7910 skirt pattern for ages, so this is easily added. I decided that the McCalls Palmer & Pletsch 6361 pants are one of the best basic pants patterns out there, so that’s done. The Kwik Sew 4104 jacket, version B (minus the collar), offers a great way to use my new reflective digital camo fabric. Then, I sort of fell in love with Version C of the McCalls 6844 knit cardigan pattern; I love those drop peplums! For tops, I found two Simplicity blouses I like, in Simplicity 1779, Version C, and Simplicity 6187 Version B. Lastly, I am obsessed with Vogue 7160, which I plan to make colorblocked – look at the line in that skirt! So perfect for reflective trim.

There are a few other patterns that I’m in love with that I will save for more winter outfits, that is, after I’ve made some of these. The pants and Simplicity 1779 I expect to be more challenging – I’ve been avoiding button plackets, eek! But the rest should be fairly easy. I think I’ll add an expose zipper to the Kwik Sew jacket, since I dislike jackets that don’t actually fasten in some way. Plus, I have another glow-in-the-dark separating zipper, so why not?!

Now I am obsessively hunting for fabrics. It’s hard when your local fabric stores are limited to JoAnn Fabrics (the Virginia G Street Fabrics store closed over the summer, alas), so I’m haunting fabric websites. I’ve found some lovely, lovely options at – I had no idea she sold fabric on her website! I love the black marble knit for the McCalls 6844 cardigan, and the Ashbury stretch denim for the Kwik Sew 4104 jacket, but since they are so similar, I can’t use them both. But which?!

Marcy Tilton Black Marble Knit (Image from website)

Marcy Tilton Black Marble Knit (Image from website)

Marcy Tilton Ashbury Stretch Cottom (Image from website)

Marcy Tilton Ashbury Stretch Cottom (Image from website)

While flailing about for fabric and color ideas, Simplicity suggested on Instagram that I look at the Pantone Fall 2015 color collection. Of course! So perfect! I love all the colors.

Pantone Fall 2015 Colors (I forget which website I found this image on, oops)

Pantone Fall 2015 Colors (I forget which website I found this image on, oops)

So I’ve decided that the Kwik Sew jacket will be Stormy Weather, since the reflective camo fabric is gray; the pants should be Reflecting Pond; the skirt will be Marsala; and Biscay Bay, Oak Buff and Cashmere Rose will be blouse and accent colors. Now I just have to find fabrics that fit! I think I want the skirt to be in corduroy, because I love that fabric and it can be 3-season fabric. I’ll probably use a basic twill for the pants, then branch out into nicer fabrics once I perfect the fit. I have reflective fabric that is practically Biscay Bay, and think that will be fun as the yoke on Simplicity New Look 6187. It will be hard to decide on the blouse fabrics, because I love big, bright prints – so many options!

Trying to work through and sketch out my ideas....

Trying to work through and sketch out my ideas….

I've already picked the fabrics for the color-block dress and can't wait to order them! I'm waiting to get the pattern first, to check fabric requirements.

I’ve already picked the fabrics for the color-block dress and can’t wait to order them! I’m waiting to get the pattern first, to check fabric requirements.

While I’m finishing my last two summer projects, I will take the time to think through what I want these pieces to look like. I will need to be super focused and not get distracted, so maybe the longer I hunt for fabrics, the more focused I’ll stay?!

What sort of plans do you have for this fall, biking or sewing, or otherwise?