The author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web this passage from the second edition of her Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000 (2000), published by A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd., which retains copyright. Readers wishing to obtain the book can e-mail the following address:

decorated initial 'T' he growth of sporting activities, for women as well as men, was phenomenal, particularly between 1870 and 1900. For the wealthy, riding, shooting (rarely practised by women) and hunting were joined by yachting; other sports available to those with more modest incomes, in particular the growing middle classes, included croquet (often replaced by tennis, especially in America, during the 1870s), archery, golf, hockey, and cricket (women's teams were formed during the 1880s-90s). In America, inter-collegiate football was born around 1869 and baseball became the national sport in 1871. There was ice-skating in winter, roller-skating all the year round from the 1860s in America and from 1880 in England. The popularity of seaside and country holidays increased the practice of bathing, swimming and walking, and with the arrival of the bicycle in the 1880s-90s, cycle clubs were formed and phalanxes of men and girls, some on tandems, bowled away into the country on Sunday mornings.

All these activities required special clothing -- riding habits, tailored suits for golf, shorter skirts for tennis; and from the late 1860s bathing costumes were featured in women's magazines. The English What-not or Ladies' Handy Book commented in 1861, 'The chief drawback to ladies swimming, is the bathing dress used in this country. The most commodious and at the same time, the most pleasant to the wearer, is a garment, consisting of a dress and drawers in one, made of grey serge, and having a band to confine the waist.'

The fact that women cycled in the long cumbersome skirts of the 1880s is almost as incredible as their going mountaineering in bustles. By the 1890s the need for some kind of bifurcated cycling garment was felt strongly enough for women to adopt divided or baggy knickerbockers called bloomers. The name came from a form of dress introduced around 1850 by an American, Amelia Bloomer, who was an active campaigner for the emancipation of women and reform in dress. Consisting of what she called 'baggy pantaloons' beneath a loose tunic reaching to or a little above the knee, this costume, adopted by other liberal-minded American ladies, was ridiculed by such papers as Punch and in music-hall songs which referred to women 'wearing the trousers'. The cycling costume of the 1890s received a similar response, including denouncements from the pulpit, but ladies of a dashing disposition continued to wear it [Nunn, p. 133].

Related Materials


Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd edition. A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.

Last modified 11 June 2001