Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part I: The Plan

It’s been a few years (three, I think) since I made a new mid-19th century evening gown. I have three evening gowns from this era that currently fit and they are kept constant rotation at events each year. It’s nice to change it up and have different dresses to wear, so I’ve decided I want a new dress!

My goal is to keep the cost down on the new dress, so I went through my stash binder to look for fabrics I already own that would work for this project. I also went through my inspiration for dresses from this period, settling on a lace trimmed dress in an illustration on page 208 of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

It’s the dress on the right that I like, the one ‘Of white tarletan; double skirts flounced with black lace’. However, I’ve decided to make my dress in apricot colored silk. This is due in part to the fact I had yardage enough of apricot silk in my stash, but I think the idea was also influenced by the description of the dress in the center of the illustration. I think I had apricot on the brain!

The apricot silk was purchased in 2016 with no particular project in mind except the general idea of being a historical dress. It has slubs and is definitely a shantung and not a taffeta. That’s not great for historical garments for many periods, but there are a few points in its favor.
a) it was already in the stash in enough yardage for this project
b) the multiple bands of trim on the skirt and generous bertha will distract from the slubs
c) it’s a color of dress that I don’t have too much of and that I don’t have any of in this time period

That explains the color choice, but I’m not planning for my dress to have a double skirt. To me, it looks like the white tarletan dress is drawn in a way that looks like a single skirt with lace trim applied at multiple heights rather than a double skirt. This type of applied skirt trim around the entire circumference of the skirt is common in the first few years of the 1860s, so I’m going with idea. I’ll share more about my skirt trim inspiration that when I get to that point in the process.

For now, if we were to describe my dress in Cunnington’s style, it would be ‘Of apricot silk with cream lace and red silk velvet bows’. There might be some tulle mixed into the bertha as well, we’ll see when we get there. Here are my fabrics, with a stand-in lace (I estimate needing around 35 yards of lace for this dress–not a quantity that was already in my stash–so that was the one section of the project that needed to be purchased).

Plan? Check. Fabric? Check. Next step, a pattern. That’s where we’ll start in the next post in this series.

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HSM #6: Mid-19th Century Underclothes

I finally made a garment this year that qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly! June’s Challenge is: Favourite Technique: make an item using your favourite sewing or embellishment technique. My garment for this challenge is a pair of split drawers from the mid-19th century.

My technique of choice are French seams. These are durable, tidy, and easy to sew with a sewing machine.

A quick explantation of how to sew a French seam is to sew with wrong sides together first, press the seam allowances open (they should be on the outside of the garment at this point), then sew the seam again so that the raw edges are fully encased on the inside of the garment. A French seam starts the opposite of how you would normally sew a seam (which is with right sides together). To this with your regular seam allowance the first line of stitches is narrower than your full seam allowance (for example: my seam allowance was ½”, so I first stitched with a slightly wide ⅛” seam then stitched again with a slightly wide ¼” seam). This ensures that the seam is tidy on the right side of the garment, with no loose threads showing. To keep French seams narrow on the inside of the garment it is essential that the first line of stitching is close to the edge of the fabric–sometimes that means stitching a wider seam and then trimming it to be narrow. If this is the case then it’s worth thinking ahead when cutting to decide if the seam allowances need to be wider than normal.

Below is a closeup on one of the inseams of the drawers, showing the French seam.

On to The Facts!

Fabric:  1 ¾ yards of cotton lawn from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: My own. I think these were based on a pattern in a book over ten years ago, but I can’t remember what book and I know I’ve made changes since creating the original pattern.

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: One button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 98%. That missing 2% is for the machine sewing of the waistband to the inside of the drawers, as I think it was more likely that this step would have been completed by hand.

Hours to complete: 2 ¼ hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $8.75.

These drawers are entirely machine sewn, with French seams, narrow hems, and the ‘stitch in the ditch’ method of finishing the waistband. The ‘stitch in the ditch’ replaces more time consuming hand sewing of the waistband on the inside. It leaves barely visible machine stitches just under the bottom of the waistband on the outside and nicely turned under edges on the inside of the waistband, as you can see at the point on the center front in the photo above. The buttonhole is also sewn by machine. The only hand sewing is securing the button.

These drawers are part of a set that I made for a friend. In addition to the drawers, she will also be receiving two mid-19th century chemises (also sewn with French seams!).

As these are worn without other garments underneath, it was important that the fabric is opaque. Dharma Trading’s cotton lawn is tightly woven and definitely opaque enough for this use. Plus, it’s 60″ wide and a great price! I will say that due to the tight weave of the fabric I had a much easier time sewing it with a fresh sewing needle. The old, probably blunt, needle on my sewing machine was a little struggle-y at first, but I had no problems once I changed the needle.

In total, all three garments took 5 yards of fabric, 7 hours of time, and cost $25 in supplies (the button for the drawers as well as lace and ribbon for the chemises was from the stash).

Regency Intensive Dance Weekend 2019

It’s been two years since I last did a post covering the entirety of one of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Regency Intensive Dance Weekends. I thought this year would be a good year to bring back that tradition, so I made sure to capture moments throughout the weekend (or I helped friends make that goal happen!). So… prepare for a long post with lots of photos!

Saturday is a day full of dance classes. The name of the weekend does include the word ‘intensive’, right? The level of dancing achieved at this event is quite a step above a stand alone ball and I love how special that is. Here we are in the morning, learning the special steps that are particular to Regency dancing.

Saturday evening brings a ball to practice all the dance steps learned throughout the day. This year I decided to wear my red and gold 1813 evening gown and red and gold tiara with my red and gold reticule. I enjoy how well these different pieces coordinate with each other!

Amusingly, two other ladies were also wearing red and gold dresses. With cross fronts! Isn’t it neat how a description such as ‘red cross front short sleeve gown with gold trimming‘ can be the same but each dress is unique?

I find it pleasant to observe lovely clothing on elegant people during the course of ball. New dresses and accessories add a bit of excitement to a gathering! I enjoyed seeing this dress because I also have a dress made from the same Ikea curtain fabric.

Sunday morning we have more dance classes followed by a mixture of tea, promenade, and games in the afternoon. The activities have varied over the last seven years but we’ve always had an afternoon of non-dance fun incorporating at least a few of these activities each year. This year we started with a promenade. Thankfully we had good weather: a reasonable temperature with just a little bit of sun that accommodated pelisses, shawls, and spencers.

We ended on the town common and stopped for photos. Isn’t this one lovely?

On our return stroll, I might have become distracted by one of the historic houses owned by one of the museums in town… The property had a fabulous wrought iron fence that I insisted we take photos with. Lots of photos… These are just a few!

As you can see, I wore my 1815 tree gown, 1819 spencer, and 1815 bonnet. Plus, I finally made use of a muff I made back in 2012 at Dress U! The scale of this muff is generally for the 18th century so I really haven’t used it since I made it, but the color matched my accessories so well that I decided to wear it with this outfit and I love the result. It’s super cozy and warm and the cover is completely separate from the down stuffed pillow inside so that in theory I can make other covers for it someday. This lovely item is the result of a class I took with LadyDetalle. (She has an Etsy shop that often stocks muffs like this as well as many other beautiful and historically inclined goodies.)

Back at the hall, tea was well underway. This year’s group really enjoyed chatting with each other and playing games. It was charming to observe such enjoyment.

Not too long after tea comes the grand ball across town. We have always started this ball with a reception that includes champagne sabering in a little park just near the hall.

Arriving back at the hall, guests are greeted with sparkling cider.

We took a few minutes out of the evening to document our clothing, as one does. I wore my 1817 Gold Stripe Duchess evening gown again (I just wore it in February as well), but with different accessories. I love how these accessories changed up the dress to have a different feel. This wearing included my 1819 purple hair flowers, purple shoe clips, the new necklace and earring set from the wearing of this dress in February that is from In The Long Run Designs and a white organza sash just like the green one I wore in February. The white really didn’t show on this dress except for a hint of fluff at the bow, but the two purple accessories stood out and of course the jewelry was sparkly and wonderful!

Purple and gold seemed to be a theme at this ball, just as red and gold was the night before! Raven of Plaid Petticoats had a new dress that fit the theme very well. She and lots of helping hands were working on the dress all weekend in order to finish it for the ball!

It’s quite grand, seeing everyone dressed in their Regency best for this ball. And I think many people are surprised by how well the dancing goes! It’s a special treat to have such advanced dancing.

This ball is always accompanied by lavish refreshments carefully arranged to impress.

And at the end of two wonderfully long days of dancing I’m always exhausted! I hope that reading through this post was exciting and not exhausting! If you’d like to read more about the magic of previous years, I posted about the Regency Intensive Dance Weekend in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 as well.

1817 Gold Stripes And Face Framing Curls

Back in February, I was able to re-wear my 1817 Gold Stripe Duchess Gown to The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Regency Ball.

I love this dress! The sheer fabric is unusual to see in modern recreation settings and has lots of body, making for a lovely shape that is fun to dance in. It turns out that the gold stripe is rather neutral, so I’ve had fun accessorizing it in different ways this spring. We’ll start with this wearing, but there’s another one to blog about as well!

This time I decided to add a bit of color to the dress by adding a wide chartreuse organza sash with a simple bow in the back and rather long ends. (I’m all for variation in ribbon sashes for Regency dresses. In fact, I wrote a post detailing different sash styles a number of years ago!)

I also added lovely new jewelry from In The Long Run Designs. The color I chose, jonquil, is a light yellow color . It compliments my skin tone and adds quite a bit of neutral-toned sparkle to my ensembles (the goal was to match as many dresses as possible so I can get the most use out of the set).

The day of the ball I thought I had lots of time and so I decided on a whim to do a complicated hair style with face curls. It turns out I was off by an hour but I didn’t realize it until I was in the car! Thankfully I arrived in time and didn’t cause anyone else issues with my lateness. Oops! But I was very pleased with my hair (and the fact that it was done before I arrived to get dressed definitely helped offset the fact that I was late).

The hairstyle is directly inspired by the following image of Maria Leopoldine of Austria from 1815 (source). I have a note that it was painted by Friedrich Johann Gottlieb Lieder but I can’t find documentation for that detail outside of my note-to-self. Maria Leopoldine caught my eye because I love big braid buns (my hair does volume so well!) and I thought it was high time to try face curls again (see my 2014 attempt and a different narrower circumference of curl in 2016 to see other attempts I’ve posted about).

So off I went with a curling iron to try and reproduce this hairstyle. Given that I thought I had lots of time, I even took photos of the process so I could share it with you!

Let me start by saying that yes, even though my hair is curly I still use a curling iron (or other curling method) to get precise curls. To show the difference, here’s my hair at a partially done stage. You can see the curling iron curls to the left of my forehead and chin with my natural curls being held sideways in between them and on the right side of my face.

How did I get to that point? I’ve determined that great looking historical hairstyles are often styled in many parts. The complicated thing about face framing curls with my hair is that it’s all quite long: past my shoulders when it’s curly and almost to the middle of my back when it’s straight. I don’t have short lengths around my face to curl, so I have to fake it with long lengths that are pinned up to be shorter.

To begin, I split each half of my hair into sections–a front top section, a back top section, a section behind my ear, and the rest of the hair on the back of my head. In the photo above, I’ve already used the curling iron to curl the top back section of hair, pinned up some of the length, and used the front top section of hair to smooth out and cover up the pinned up length. I’ve also curled the back section behind my ear and pinned the curls up to shorten them as well. The rest of the hair is being held out to the side so you can see the different sections I’m referring to.

I realized after taking that photo that I should show a better example of what all of those words mean. So in the next photo I’ve let go of the back section and put a loose hair tie around it to keep it separate from my nicely curled sections. And I’ve curled the back top section of the other side of my hair, but I haven’t pinned those curls up to shorten or arrange them. I’m holding the front top section up in the air so you can see how untamed the curling iron curls look before being arranged.

The curls are the hard part. After arranging the top front sections and pinning them down around the back of my head it was a matter of wrapping and pinning up the back sections to look nice and make a big bun on the top of my head. I’m pretty sure I used a big bun form under there (the medium one from my Versailles hair in 2016–and for reference that post pretty clearly shows how long my hair is–it’s great for volume but can be a lot to wrangle), but it’s hard to remember as that was now almost three months ago and I didn’t take photos of those steps!

The final step was to wrap and pin my trusty (and yikes, 15 years old!) faux braid around the bun and give the whole thing a liberal dose of hairspray!

I love that I’ve found a new look for this dress and a new historical hairstyle. Looking at the photos, it doesn’t look like my braid bun is quite as large or wide as Maria Leopoldine’s (I’ll have to try again someday!). Despite that, I was very pleased with the face framing curls and the bouncing curls behind my ears. The style felt very regal!

1896 Bicycling Ensemble: Construction Details

As promised, I have quite a few words and photos to share with you about the construction of my 1896 Bicycling Ensemble, so prepare yourself for a long post! This post is a great reference for me to have all the details in one place, but I also hope that some of my details might be helpful for other people who want to build 1890s cycling outfits as well.

If you want to read a bit more about the social history of the bicycle ensemble, see more finished ensemble photos than the few in this post, or read more about the accessories I’m wearing with this ensemble, check out my first post about it (this is the same as the first link). I also have a post looking specifically at patents and advertisements for women’s bicycling clothing from this time. It’s a great supplement to some of the information I mention in that first post.

This post is going to focus on the main garments that make up this ensemble: the jacket and bloomers. We’ll start with the two main similarities between these garments.

#1 Both garments are mostly machine sewn, with hand sewing for the tailoring steps of the jacket as well as much of the finishing of each garment.

#2 Both jacket and bloomers are made from a drab colored wool that has been in my stash since 2012. I purchased it from the remnant table at the local discount fabric store for the amazing price of $3/yard! I bought every piece they had, so I have about 10 yards broken up in about 6 different pieces. I used less than half of what I purchased for this project, leaving me plenty to use this for an 1880s dress as well. (That one has been in progress for the last 18 months… I hope to finish it this year!)

The drab colored wool is perfect for this cycling outfit, not only because I already owned it and it has been taking up space for years, but also because drab was a popular color for cycling outfits because it successfully hid dirt and dust. Other recommended colors were brown, black, and navy.

The Bloomers

Now that we’ve looked at the similarities let’s look at the differences, starting with the bloomers.

These are entirely self drafted. While that might sound intimidating, these are actually quite simple! Each leg is the full width of the fabric, 60″ wide, and 33″ in length. On my 5’6″ frame that provides plenty of pouf in the legs when they are held in place around the tops of my calves. The only shaping is in the crotch seam, which is a curve ~5.5″ wide and ~12″ deep. The crotch curve is deep enough and the bloomers are full enough that I made the crotch curve the same for the front and back. Here’s a photo of the crotch curve drawn out before I cut it.

The fullness of the 60″ wide legs is pleated into the waistband with knife pleats folded towards center front and center back. Knife pleats are documented in sporting bloomers from the 1890s and are specially mentioned as being folded this way in order to help the bloomers maintain the full look of a skirt, in keeping with the social convention that skirts were acceptable wear for women but bifurcated bloomers were not. I experimented and decided I liked just a few deep knife pleats as they helped the bloomers fall nicely on my body.

I debated about how to gather in the fullness at the bottom of the legs, especially since I couldn’t find specific instructions on how this was accomplished or see this particular detail given the way extant bloomers are displayed. I decided on gathering each leg into a band that hooks so that it stays in place at the top of my calf. There is a 3″ slit in the leg as well. The raw edges of this are turned under ¼” and whip stitched by hand. There is also a small reinforcing bar sewn across the top of the slit to keep it from ripping. Here’s a closeup of the leg opening.

The inside of the bloomers looks like this. There are two decorative strapping details on the front of the bloomers (more on that when I get to the jacket). These conceal a placket opening on one hip (visible on the far left) and a pocket on the other! The crotch seam and inseams are left unfinished. This wool did a pretty good job of not fraying at the edges so there was no need to finish these seam allowances.

Here is a closeup of the placket opening that is hidden behind one of the strapping details. You can also see the interior of the waistband, which is whip stitched to hold it in place. To be entirely fair, I could have made bloomers on a waistband without the strapping and pocket and saved a fair bit of time. Stitching the strapping bits on and hiding the placket and pocket behind them required some extra brain somersaults and time to figure out and execute. But I really like the strapping detail on this extant bicycling ensemble from 1896 at The Met and really wanted to include that detail in my own garments, so here we are.

Here’s what the bloomers look like when the wind filled them out during our photoshoot. This gives a better idea of how much fabric is in each leg of the bloomers.

The Jacket

I wanted to have a tailor-made style with a lapel and collar that would follow the general style of men’s jackets in the 19th century. Most bicycling ensembles are of this style, due in part to the fact that this type of activity was traditionally a male pastime. The specialty clothing produced for men’s active pursuits was made by a tailor, so it follows that women’s clothing began to be tailor-made as well as they joined in these male activities in the later part of the 19th century.

I started with the pattern for my 1895 Skating Ensemble because I knew it had the general shape of the mid-1890s and that it already fit. That pattern was made by me, based on my inspiration jacket for that ensemble as well as patterns published in Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns. I had already modified it to get the shape of the skating jacket, but I modified it even more to create this new jacket. I made these further changes:

  • Created princess seams on the front and back that run down from the shoulders instead of the armsceye
  • Joined the side back pieces to make a single wider piece instead of two narrower pieces
  • Moved the new side back seam towards the side seam
  • Added back pleats, front darts, and a lapel and collar
  • Shortened the length

At this point it’s really not close to the original pattern at all!

The sleeves are my standard 1890s gigot sleeve that originally came from Period Costumes For Stage and Screen. I wound up making a number of changes to the pattern to get a slightly different shape. Below you can see my progress.

After trying out the original sleeve I made two major changes to the shape, angling the underarm seam at the top/making the top less full and angling the underarm seam at the bottom towards the wrist/shortening the length. After pleating each side of the new sleeve towards center I ended up with the sleeve shape on the right.

After I had a pattern I was confident with I started cutting my pieces. Each exterior piece was cut in wool and cotton in order to be flatlined. The front and collar facings are single layers of wool. There are also canvas interlining pieces for the front and collar.

The proper way to flatline is to pin your layers together and then (preferably) hand baste around each piece to hold the layers together while working with them. I opted to eliminate the basting step, using pins to hold the layers together until they were sewn. My fabrics were pretty sticky so this time-saving shortcut worked pretty well. You can see the pins holding the non-sewn edges together in this photo of the exterior after assembling the front and back pieces.

This is also one of the only steps that show the front darts, as those were hidden under the decorative strapping I added to the jacket later on. The other amusing thing here is that because I was cutting my garment pieces from multiple pieces of wool you can see a color difference here between the center back pieces and the other pieces. But it’s not noticeable in the finished jacket, so that’s good!

And here’s the jacket at the same point in the process, turned over to see the inside. Now the flat lining is clearly visible, as are the box pleats along the back seams. You can also see the canvas that runs down the fronts.

Here is just one side of the front. It gives a clearer view of the front dart and the canvas that supports the lapel and front edge.

I pad stitched the lapel and taped the roll line in men’s tailoring fashion. These stitches help to support the roll of the collar. The tape running across the roll line snugs that distance in just a bit which helps the collar roll in exactly that spot.

I decided not to try to pattern the strapping with the main body pieces. It just seemed too complicated to wrap my head around. I knew they wouldn’t be straight, as my body is curved, and I knew that making them on the bias would be a disaster to try and manage the edges of… I decided to deal with this step when I got there in the construction process.

Accordingly, when the jacket had all of the vertical seams assembled it was time to consider the strapping. I did this at this step, before sewing the shoulder seams, as I wanted the strapping front and back pieces to perfectly match along that seam. Easier to pattern flat than if I’d already sewn the shoulder seams!

I laid the jacket out on the table with a scrap piece of wool on top of it, put pins along the seam line to mark the location (so my strapping would hide the seam), and then drew a strapping shape I liked around that. As you can see, I didn’t follow the curve of the seam perfectly. That was an intentional choice, as I wanted the strapping to have a similar curve as the curve on the strapping of my inspiration jacket (here is the link to that again, in case you want to take a look and not scroll all the way up to the first link).

I repeated this process for the front (which was trickier with the shaping that dart creates!) then cut out four of each piece. I decided to finish the edges by making a tube that was topstitched by machine before being hand sewn to the jacket

I can’t imagine how horrible it would have been to try to topstitch the straps onto the jacket! Bad… very, very bad! And trying to turn the edges under and then topstitch would not have provided enough stability for crisp edges and would also have been a frustrating experience. Thank goodness I avoided those potential problems!

Here are two of the four straps, pinned and ready to be stitched together. The only edge I left open is the straight edge (at the right) that would go into the shoulder seam. After being sewn and trimmed these were turned right side out, pressed, topstitched, and carefully placed at the shoulder seam so that they would match up perfectly when the seam was stitched. The edges of the straps were then invisibly hand sewn to the jacket.

Here’s the end result. The straps look topstitched onto the jacket, but they are actually finished pieces that are fully sewn down in front but only attached above the pleats in the back, allowing the bottoms to flap amusingly! This detail is again taken from my inspiration jacket (and here is the link to that again).

As I mentioned earlier, the bloomers also have a strapping detail taken directly from my inspiration bicycle outfit at The Met. Those were carefully patterned–they look straight at first glance but are actually slightly angled and tapered. They are made in the same way as the jacket strapping pieces, though as I mentioned earlier, they were more complicated to put onto the bloomers as they conceal a placket on one side and a pocket on the other. That was a figure it out as I go experiment that required precision and quite a bit of puzzle-solving!

The collar was interlined with canvas and pad-stitched to provided stability for the shape. Then it was sewn around the edge by the machine and the seam allowances were graded before I turned it right side out.

The sleeves are pleated to take in the fullness to fit the armsceye. There are 10 pleats total, each about ½” (1″ total) in depth. Here’s a photo looking down into the sleeve with all the pleats pinned in place. The box pleat (that is slightly off center in the photo) is the top of the sleeve when it’s set into the armhole of the jacket.

In this next photo we’ve progressed quite a few steps! The sleeves are set, the collar is on, the front wool facings are on, the collar edge and facing edges are turned under and hand sewn in place. I’ve finished the bottom edge of the jacket with a bias strip of cotton that was machine sewn then pressed to the inside and hand sewn into place (this is also how I finished the sleeve cuffs). The buttons are on and the buttonholes sewn by machine. I’ve whip stitched all of the seam allowances to keep them from fraying and added some extra support for the sleeve caps. I’ve also added a waist stay. Quite a few hours of work to condense into one paragraph!

The waist stay is a grosgrain ribbon sewn to the seam allowances that hooks in the front. Its purpose is to keep the jacket tight against my lower back and to keep the jacket from riding up as I use my arms. The photo below shows a close up of this as well as a number of other details–the bias binding at the bottom, the whip stitched seam allowances, and the pleats tacked to the lining along the top edges.

The sleeve pleats wouldn’t stand up on their own which made me a bit sad. My solution was to give them a bit of support… in this case I reused stiff net sleeve headers removed from 1980s dresses that I have a whole bag of in my stash. Each jacket sleeve has two of these sewn into the armsceye such that they stand up off my shoulder and help to support the pleats. In this photo I’ve just flipped them out to make them easier to see, but normally they’re tucked up inside the sleeve.

I also tacked the pleats together by hand about 1.5″ away from the seam. This helps keep the pleats nicely arranged and pointing up, which helps keep the fullness of the sleeves in check. In the end, this sleeve isn’t quite the same shape as my Met inspiration (here’s the link one more time), but that’s because it would have taken a lot more patterning time to determine exactly how the Met sleeve is shaped. I wanted to use my existing sleeve pattern and so I’ve decided to be happy with the sleeves I have.

To recap, all these details and construction steps produce this! Slightly subdued 1890s puff sleeves, tailored jacket details, interesting strapping patterns, and bloomers!

People sometimes ask me how long it takes to make my garments and often I don’t have a good answer as I don’t actually pay attention. I’m in it for the enjoyment of sewing and unless something is going wrong and I’m frustrated I generally enjoy the process. For this ensemble I kept track, though, and I can report that it took me 22 hours to pattern, fit, cut, tailor, sew, and finish this jacket and bloomer ensemble.

I’ve collected some (but by no means all!) images of bicycling ensembles on my 1890s Sportswear Pinterest board if you want to see more of my visual research and inspiration. Thanks for sticking with me for a lengthy post!

1890s Women’s Bicycling Clothing: Patents & Advertisements

There’s still a post coming soon about the construction details of my 1896 Cycling Ensemble, but I have quite a bit to say so it’s taking a bit of time to write. While working on it I found some great examples of other ingenious bicycling clothing for women patented and advertised around this time.

I mentioned the skirt variations in the introduction post for the cycling ensemble:

“Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).” 

I thought it would be fun to share the patents I found that illustrate these other styles of skirts!

First, an example of a bicycle ‘skirt guard.’ The ‘skirt guard’ is visible on the back wheel on the bicycle. Here is a patent from 1898 showing a skirt guard, as well.

Next, I have a patent from 1896 for a skirt with an ‘elevator’ which would allow the skirt to be raised with cords to make cycling safer. You can see the bloomers she is wearing underneath when her skirt is raised. This would allow the cyclist to be appropriately clothed while not riding and safely clothed while on the bicycle.

The next patent from 1895 shows the ‘skort’ style. This looks like a skirt in the front but is split in the back. The back is quite full, so that the appearance is that of a skirt.

Then I also came across this unusual method of a skirt with pieces that button on and off in front and back to reveal a bifurcated style underneath from 1895. It looks like this was designed so that the folded up pieces will hang from the front of your bicycle so you have them handy when you arrive at your destination. But I wonder how hard it would be to twist and bend in your corset to button and unbutton all of these connection points? My guess based on personal experience twist and bending in a corset is that it would be quite a challenge to do by yourself!

Here’s another interesting patent from 1896. These very full ankle length trousers that look like a skirt can be buttoned up around the knees to turn into knee length bloomers.

This image shows a women clearly wearing bloomers, but with a knee length skirt on top to still give a nod to the 19th century aversion to women opening wearing trousers (or bloomers).

I love that most of these women are shown wearing their gaiters! It’s justification for my own pair. I came across this advertisement for ‘bicycle leggings’ as well. Neat!

Finally, here’s an example of a corset intended specifically for sportswear and athletic pursuits. It makes use of some stiffness as well as some elastic and is expressly made for activities such as bicycling.

Daring & Dedicated: My 1896 Cycling Ensemble

I’ve been hinting at the 1896 Cycling Ensemble I’ve been working on since December, first by sharing the black gaiters I made as part of the ensemble, then by sharing my deliberation and eventual decision to take a shortcut with two of the other accessories for the ensemble, and most recently by sharing photos of the shortcut accessories: a dickie and bow tie. Now it’s time for the reveal of the finished outfit in its entirety!

My inspiration for creating this ensemble is a talk I’ve been invited to give at both the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Newport Historical Society. The talk, titled Undressing History: Active Pursuits, Women’s Sportswear c.1900, will take a look at the clothing women wore to participate in sports and athletic activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’ll be actively dressing in multiple of my sportswear ensembles from 1885 to 1925, including clothing that could be worn for tennis, ice skating, bicycling, croquet, and swimming. I’ll discuss the cultural context of women’s participation in athletic activities during this time as well as the garments themselves: how they functioned while being worn for active pursuits, what they were made from, and how the silhouettes compared to non-sports clothing. I’ll be presenting this talk twice: on February 28 in Providence, RI and on March 28 in Newport, RI. If you’re interested in joining me, you can find more details about the event here.

As you might have noticed from my links to other sportswear ensembles I already own, I was missing a cycling ensemble. Bicycling became hugely popular for women in the 1890s, with a peak in 1896, so I felt that I must include this form of sportswear in my talk. And while I could use my 1895 skating ensemble as an example of the silhouette that would have been worn for bicycling while wearing a skirt, I felt it would be fun to show what the more daring and dedicated sportswomen of the 1890s wore: a bloomer suit. Full they might be, but those are pants!

Daring and dedicated, that’s me in this outfit. Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).

While that is amusing, I thought it would be more fun to make the most socially daring option: fully bifurcated bloomers. Some women wore these under a skirt while riding in order to maintain modesty. And some women, daring in terms of breaking the social conventions of the time and dedicated in terms of taking advantage of the newfound freedom a bicycle afforded, wore skirts that they would remove while riding, with bifurcated bloomers such as mine underneath.

Interestingly, a fashionable, tailor-made wool jacket like this could cost as much as $50 in 1896. Calculated in today’s dollars, that would be over $1,000. Quite a sum, and that doesn’t even include the bloomers or accessories! For those who had less disposable income, a linen suit provided a more economical option. With cheaper fabric, a dressmaker instead of a tailor, and patterns shared amongst customers, a full linen suit could be obtained for $7. That’s down to just about $150 in today’s dollars.

I have lots of construction details to share from making the bloomers and jacket, so there will be a detailed post focused on that soon. For now, here are a few close up photos of details, including my hidden pocket!

It was an exciting adventure to get photos of this outfit. In order to get timely photos I had to take the outdoors as I found it, snow and all. I valiantly tromped around, but I’ll admit that my feet were getting pretty wet and cold by the time we were done! Here’s a behind-the-scenes action shot on the way to getting the more finished photos–following my photographer’s path in the snow in a rather futile effort to keep the snow out of my shoes.

Sometime in the spring, perhaps, I’ll be able to ride a bike in my ensemble and get photos that give more context. In the meantime, we got some lovely winter-y photos and had some good laughs! Thanks to my intrepid photographer for making the time to take photos!