Patents by female inventors from the 1890s reveal the creative ways women made their body mobile through clothing
Much has been written about the bicycle’s role as a vehicle of women’s liberation. But far less is known about another critical technology women used to forge new mobile and public lives – cyclewear. I have been studying what Victorian women wore when they started cycling. Researching how early cyclists made their bodies mobile through clothing reveals much about the social and physical barriers they were navigating and brings to light fascinating tales of ingenious inventions.
Cycling was incredibly popular for middle- and upper-class women and men in the late 19th century, and women had to deal with distinct social and sartorial challenges. Cycling exaggerated the irrationality of women’s conventional fashions more than any other physical activity. Heavy, layered petticoats and long skirts caught in spokes and around pedals. Newspapers regularly published gruesome accounts of women dying or becoming disfigured in cycling crashes due to their clothing.