Tuesday, 23 November 2010


It seems strange to contemplate the bicycle as a revolutionary object but in the 1880’s during The Bicycle Craze that’s almost exactly what it amounted to. The humble cycle stimulated great controversy about men and women’s proper roles in society. Questions of "how Ladies should ride", when they should ride, who they should ride with and especially what they should ride in were much discussed and many a young buck was thought to be brought to the point of unrestrained lust by the sight of "wheeling" females. Bicycle riding was thought to threatened women’s health, morals, and reputation.....(oh please, please, please, let that be true,...... see earlier posts for detail!).

While calmer advocates of the bicycle like Maria Ward, saw "The bicycle...... creating the desire for progress, the preference for what is better, the striving for the best, broadening the intelligence and intensifying love of home and country”, Physicians suggested that the bicycle promoted immodesty, and would harm women’s reproductive systems. Others noted that women “wheelers” wore shorter skirts, exposing the ankle and "inviting" insults and rapine. Moreover, by tilting the bicycle seat, they could "beget to foster the habit of masturbation".

Specially designed women’s clothing and undergarments were created “to absorb perspiration and protect the nether parts”. Looking back on old Victorian cycle magazines it is something that men seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time considering. The study of the issues involved seemed to provide endless fascination to many, predominantly male, designers ... but this pales into insignificance when one reads of the worries about the opportunity for privacy and the potential atmosphere of libertine abandon that bicycling might grant to young men and women.

To stifle lust in man and liberty in woman changes in dress or the design of bicycles was thought necessary and social taboos operated against women riding alone and professional lady cyclists acted as chaperones and were paid to undertake the role of keeping men and women pure.

Until 1825, women normally wore nothing under their skirts at all and men roundly condemned the wearing of  "drawers", one disgruntled male calling them "an abominable invention which produces disorders in abundance". ...but the die was cast and while many men opposed both bicycling and bloomer-wearing on the bases of a belief that by wearing "male dress" (later called "rational dress" or "alternative dress" by dress reform advocates) women would adopt other masculine traits, such as the desire for other women....(I presume they feared the competition?)....the bloomer made it’s appearance and both bloomers and bicycles were gaining female popularity by the late nineteenth century, even if for some they were seen as a dangerous combination.

Where am I going with this?...well does anyone think the bloomer has the potential to make a comeback?...it seems an inordinately sensible piece of female cycling attire and not without sartorial attraction.....but then what the hell would I know?....

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