Patents by female inventors from the 1890s reveal the creative ways women made their body mobile through clothing
Mon 16 Apr 2018
Fortunately, little was going to stop women riding and they rose to these challenges in a plethora of ways. Some took to wearing “rational” dress, such as replacing skirts with bloomers. While this was safer and more comfortable for cycling, dress reform was controversial. It was not unusual for onlookers who felt threatened by the sight of progressive “New Women” to hurl insults, sticks and stones. Other women adopted site-specific strategies to minimise harassment, such as cycling in conventional fashions in town and changing into more radical garments for “proper riding”.
Some pioneering women came up with even more inventive strategies. Remarkably, some Victorians not only imagined, designed, made and wore radical new forms of cyclewear but also patented their inventions. The mid-1890s marked a boom in cycling and also in patenting, and not only for men. Cycling’s “dress problem” was so mobilising for women that cyclewear inventions became a primary vehicle for women’s entry into the world of patenting.
The patents for convertible cyclewear are particularly striking. These garments aimed ambitiously for respectability and practicality. Inventors concealed converting technologies inside skirts, including pulley-systems, gathering cords, button and loop mechanisms and more, that enabled wearers to switch between modal identities when required.