Victorian women forged new and mobile public lives through pioneering cycle wear designs, research from a Goldsmiths, University of London academic has shown.
Dr Kat Jungnickel has revealed how Victorian women cyclists used their clothing to protest against restrictive ideas of how a woman should act and move in public. She has also uncovered patents for and remade a number of the pioneering inventions.
“The bicycle in Victorian Britain is often celebrated as a vehicle of women’s liberation,” Dr Jungnickel said, “but less is noted about another vehicle through which women forged new mobile public lives – cycle wear.”
Middle and upper-class women were enthusiastic cyclists in the late nineteenth century. However, ordinary fashions were uncomfortable and dangerous on the bike and it was not uncommon for onlookers to hurl abuse and stones at identifiable cyclists.
In response, inventive women patented convertible garments that enabled wearers to secretly switch between walking and cycling identities, so they could cycle safely and avoid harassment.
The 'Skirt Cape'
In her new book, Bikes & Bloomers: Victorian women inventors and their extra-ordinary cycle wear, Dr Jungnickel explores the sociological impact of these inventions in Victorian Britain, and how the inventors’ unique contributions to cycling’s past continues to shape urban life for contemporary mobile women. It is released on 16 April through Goldsmiths Press.
She will be discussing her research and displaying her remade garments at events across the country, including visits to the home towns of all six women who designed the convertible costumes and an appearance at the World Cycling Revival Festival at Herne Hill (14-16 June).
She added: “My book focuses on the lives of six of the incredible women who designed the pioneering costumes that contributed to a boom in women’s cycling. I am delighted to have been able to recreate these inventions and to research these women, and I look forward to sharing this through my book and summer tour.
“Patented convertible cycle wear is an exciting example of women’s inventive contributions to cycling’s past. As these stories reveal, women responded to the social, material and technical challenges to their freedom of movement with vivid creativity. They actively and directly worked with and around barriers that sought to prevent them from cycling and engaging more broadly in public life. Their designs offered the means for women to move independently, un-chaperoned, safely and at speed, and through patenting forged new paths into social, cultural and economic worlds.”