Fashion 1890-1900
Advent of the Bicycle The Bicycling Rage The Park Golf
Dress Reformers Lady Harberton Ladies' Clubs Tailor-made Costume
Bustle Disappearance Balloon Sleeve The Motor-car Boer War

Advent of the bicycle for women

Another reason for the great change one notes at this period from the staid gentility reminiscent of the mid-Victorian times to the more light-hearted Continental tendency, was brought about in no small degree by the advent of the bicycle for women.

In respect to the bicycle, it was somewhat surprising that, although England had always been the leader in outdoor sports and athletics, it should have been across the Channel that women first took up bicycling. The Parisienne has always been keen on new pastimes and fresh sensations, and therefore the bicycle, which had hitherto been regarded as a purely masculine form of exercise, was introduced in a new role as an attractive recreation for women. It caught on at once, and was not long in establishing itself firmly in favour, not only with young women of fashion, but with every woman and girl who was fond of exercise. The early part of the 'nineties, therefore, saw the bicycle the rage of feminine Paris.

The new machines differed in no particular respect so far as build was concerned, except in weight, from those ridden by men. Consequently they necessitated riding astride, and in a costume which put the sportsmanlike character of the Parisienne to the test. Anything more inelegant could not be conceived. It consisted, generally, of a very wide pair of knickerbockers not unlike bloomers in shape, stockings, and high boots or shoes, a simple shirt with collar and tie, and a soft felt hat with no trimming, but placed on the head with that "chic" which only a Parisienne can apply. Nevertheless in this ungraceful garb, when spinning skilfully along the country roads, she presented a thoroughly sportsmanlike appearance which was not without charm. »   Back To Content

The rage for bicycling in 1896

In England, women, with somewhat strained ideas of propriety, never dreamed of bicycling till they were offered machines specially adapted for them. Without the introduction of the low, open frame, and the practicability of riding in ordinary costume, it is probable that bicycling would never have become popular in England. From the moment that it was conceded that a lady did not necessarily lose caste because she rode a bicycle, the emancipation of the fair sex began. The rage for bicycling which was the feature of the London season of 1896 will not be forgotten. »   Back To Content

The scene in the Park during the Season

The sight in the Park every morning from eleven till one, when the road from Hyde Park Comer to the Magazine was packed with cyclists, amongst whom were all the ladies of smart society in England, was epoch-making in the history of feminine fashion. The fashion for cycling in Hyde Park died out as might have been expected. Women, once their sporting instincts were aroused, soon got sick of wheeling up and down a comparatively short road merely to be seen, and besides which, the amusement was becoming "common." But the impetus had been given, and the results could not be withheld. It was one of the stages in the evolution of the modern woman of fashion, and otherwise. »   Back To Content


In respect to golf, which also exercised a very considerable influence on the character of the modern woman of fashion, its correlation to the bicycle appears to be evident, as without it many of the links now comparatively within easy riding distance would be accessible only by tedious railway journeys. As is well known, for many years prior to 1896, ladies played golf at St. Andrews, North Berwick, and several other places where there were small links. Many clubs reserved special places where ladies could play. Gradually, however, it was recognised that such restrictions were unnecessary, so now ladies play everywhere, and their championships take place on ordinary links where exceptional skill and knowledge of the game are essential. »   Back To Content

Dress reformers: Lady Harberton and her following

Dress reformers, under the leadership of Lady Harberton and her followers, had attempted sixteen years previously to do what the bicycle now achieved without self-advertisement. The hygienic costume which was considered so outré as to cause her ladyship to be forbidden admission to many restaurants and hotels, was now gradually re-introduced in the guise of the divided bicycle-skirt and although at first it was looked at rather askance by country innkeepers, it was eventually accepted in quite good faith as indicative of "sporting" and not "fast" instincts in the fair wearer. »   Back To Content

Ladies' clubs started in London

With the appearance on the scene of a new social life, as it were, the world of feminine fashion underwent a remarkable series of changes. The languid eléganté of the old-fashioned school became transformed into a new being, a modern creation evolved from modern ideas. Not content with joining issue with man in open-air sports, she must have, like him, a club, where, in a privacy that should be different from that of her home life, she could write her letters, receive her friends, male and female, and, if so desirous, remain perfectly undisturbed as long as she wished. It was this that prompted the foundation of the Alexandra Club in 1884, the Empress in 1897, the Lyceum and the Ladies' Army and Navy in 1904, and many others since. With the change in her ideas there was also an accompanying reaction in her notions of fashion. »   Back To Content

The tailor-made costume

The tailor-made costume had begun in 1888 to make steps towards an elegance of line and finish which was somewhat unexpected. Ladies' tailors were now to be found in increasing numbers, fully proving that, with the bicycle, other outdoor sports were also claiming the attention of the fair sex, and thereby necessitating special costumes. For morning wear, men's tweeds and cheviots were the correct thing, even on occasions where more dressy costumes would have, a few years previously, been de rigueur [required by etiquette or current fashion]. With this practical costume many of the smart women would carry out the male effect to the extent of wearing a shirt of masculine appearance, with stiff collar and tie. The effect was unwomanly and calculated to impart a hard, sporting appearance to an otherwise gentle, ladylike demeanour; it had, however, a considerable and popular vogue for some years, and long after it had been abandoned by the leaders of fashion, till it was ousted by the "jabot " [an ornamental frill or ruffle on the front of a shirt or blouse, typically made of lace] and the more distinctive feminine embellishments of lingerie. »   Back To Content

For the next few years the shape of sleeves appears to have monopolised the attention of the grandes couturières, as we find many varieties put forward in the attempt to still arrive at something definite in style The manche à gigot still maintained its place in favour, alternating between London, small and large, and eventually ending by becoming abnormally big when it was on the eve of going out of fashion altogether. In the endeavour to produce original effects the result was frequently grotesque, as is seen in the style of 1890, when it was the fashion to wear sleeves of quite a different material and colour from the rest of the garment. For instance, a navy blue cloth costume would have sleeves of old rose colour velvet with black embroidery, long revers, and a "Medici effet" collar. Can anything more barbaric in taste be imagined? Much jet passementerie [decorative trimming such as tassels, braid, and fringing, used on furniture and clothing (e.g. military uniforms)] on coloured cloth was the fashion, together with applique lace-work and brandebourgs. [The frog is a * passement shaped knot, especially on dolmans or uniforms of officers. The word comes from the German town of Brandenburg.] [*an ornamental braid or decorative trimming resembling lace and made of gold, silver, or silk threads; passement is an early French word for lace] »   Back To Content

Disappearance of the "Bustle"

The corsets are characteristic of these years, being corsets worn very tight at the waist, and giving the abdomen the undue prominence, which was inelegant, to say the least of it. The "bustle" had disappeared complertely in 1893. Very long trains to the skirts, short gloves, small hats, and the hair worn close to the temples, were also typical of the early nineties. »   Back To Content

The balloon sleeve

In 1894 one had noticed that skirts had begun to be worn tight on the hips, and wider at the hem, and in 1896 a new mode for which one was being gradually prepared made its appearance. This time it was the manche a ballon-anglice, the balloon sleeve -- the bell-shaped skirt, and very small waists. The new sleeve now extended to the elbow only, where it is finished off with small revers [reversed to display the lining or facing outside, word is a corruption of reverse]. There is a "yoke" to the bodice, which is made somewhat fuller. In the following years attention seems to be gradually drifting from special shapes in shoulders, and there are indications of a return to normal conditions and long tight sleeves with a tendency to fulness at the elbows. The skirt still retains its "bell" shape, which is not inelegant. »   Back To Content

The advent of the motor-car

In the meantime a serious rival to the bicycle in popularity with the fair sex was rapidly coming to the front in England. This was the motor-car, which was destined still further to revolutionise feminine fashion. In the first few years of its existence it was looked upon as more in the nature of an engineering freak than as a vehicle with any potentialities.

In the month of April, 1896, Sir David Salomons, Bart., with the assistance of Mr. Theodore Lumley, tne well-known solicitor, caused the "Self-Propelled Traffic Association" to be incorporated, with a view to the introduction of a Bill in Parliament to improve the law relating to locomotives on highways. For fully two years before this date, France had enjoyed the advantage of motoring, whilst Great Britain was still labouring under the disadvantage of the four-mile limit, with a flag carried before the road locomotive.

Subsequently, on August 14 under the ægis of the "Self-Propelled Traffic Association," the Locomotives on Highway Act, 1896, became law. The Act had an immense significance for this country, as it was calulated calculated to reverse all the existing conditions of locomotion, indeed the effects of it are yet not fully realised.

Women were, however, still chary [Queen's English for cautious] of trustiiig themselves in the evil-smelling, noisy, and uncouth-looking machine, so for a long time it remained outside the domain of amusement so far as they were concerned. Combustion engines were meanwhile being gradually perfected. Attractive coach-building and upholstering combined to bring motoring as a luxury more tangibly to the notice of the up-to-date London society woman as well as the smart Parisienne, with the result that by the end of the century this new mode of travelhng had so fascinated them that already many had cars of their own. »   Back To Content

The Boer War

The Boer War, which started in October, 1899, put rather a break on fashion for a time, although when it started it was never anticipated that it would assume the dimensions it eventually attained, or exercise so great an effect on the temperament of the nation. Fashion is so volatile and fickle and so readily moved by surrounding circumstances that it causes no wonderment to note that, with trouble in the air, women's thoughts veered from the superficial to the sedate ; whilst it is curious to remark that the general styles reflected the national concern, and military sentiment showed itself in the shape of khaki colouring, which was to be seen in most of the modes at this time. »   Back To Content

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Fashion 1890-1899

End of Fashion - 1890-1900

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