A snapshot of historical sporting style
Today, women’s sportswear is designed for movement, comfort, fit andÂ performance – and naturally, we all take it for granted. But only 100 years or so ago, things were very different for female sporting pioneers…
Until the beginning of the 20th century, competitive sport wasnâ€™t considered important or seemly for women. And although all kinds of new sports started becoming fashionable in the 1880s, the formal dress styles of the day were far too restrictive to practice them comfortably.
Cycling, for example, had been introduced around 1880 and had become hugely popular by 1894. It was impossible to ride a bicycle in a trailing skirt and layers of petticoats, so something had to give. And it did. Bike-riding young women pioneered a more radical costume, including a divided skirt worn under a long coat, breeches beneath skirts, or bloomers and jackets.
These sensible and practical fashions appealed to many and the idea of appropriate clothing for safe movement during sporting activities started to catch on, completely redefining the late 19th century ideals of femininity. Strangely enough though, when women pursued outdoor sports, their outfits were based on men’s tailored garments and hats.
Sports clothes for women were usually heavy and often made from wool, tweeds and homespun fabrics in dark colours, as can be seen in these photos. Riding was a popular pastime in the 19th century, especially in Rotten Row in Hyde Park, London, where upper-class ladies would dress in their finest clothes to ride along the fashionable Row – to see and be seen!Â Amazingly enough, from our perspective, until the 1920s most women wore dresses to go horse riding and rode side-saddle…
…and sported bathing dresses for an outing to the beach to paddle or swim in the sea.
Then finally, when the 1920s were in full swing, bathing belles dared to bare their legs!
Meanwhile on the tennis court, French sporting star, Suzanne Lenglen raised the game with her amazing skills and scandalously short tennis skirts, made by designers like Lanvin and Patou. She was a media darling for the Jazz Age, hitting tennis into the modern era and changing the game for every female tennis star after her. Go to Style.com for more about this amazing athlete.
Talking of incredible sportswomen, check out this brave female mountaineer from the 1930s climbing a rock face. Is she really wearing high heels?
Respect to all these fabulous, courageous sportswomen!
Picture credits: Pioneering women mountaineers. Image: bbc.co.uk, Sporting outfits from 1890. Â© V&A, 19th century lady cyclists wearing bloomers. Image: velvet-couture.blogspot.co.uk, Riding habits circa 1900. Image: legrandcirque.tumblr.com, Riding habit, hat and boots, 1920s. Image Â© V&A, 19th century bathing dress. Image: Â© metmuseum.org, Bathing costumes from circa 1910. Image: Years Gone By, Bathing costumes of the 1920s. Image: nibsblog.wordpress.com, Suzanne Lenglen, Jazz Age tennis star Photo Â© Underwood and Underwood/Corbis, Female mountaineer climbs a rock face in the 1930s. Photo: Â© Getty Images.
Tags: Bathing costumes, Cycling, Female sporting pioneers, Historical sportswear, horse riding side-saddle, Jean Patou, Lanvin, Pioneer women mountaineers, Rotten Row, Style.com, Suzanne Langlen, Tennis