Roller-skating had been introduced by James L. Plimpton in 1863, and New York’s social leaders, hoping it could be restricted to “the educated and refined classes,” quickly made it fashionable. Their Roller Skating Association leased the Atlantic House in Newport and made over its dining-hall and piazza into a skatingrink. It held weekly assemblies where such distinguished guests as General Sherman and Chief Justice Bigelow watched “tastefully dressed young men and girls, sailing, swimming, floating through the mazes of the march, as if impelled by magic power.”
Going further west, skating was even more popular. The Olympian Club Roller Skating Rink in San Francisco advertised five thousand pairs of skates and 69,000 square feet of hardmaple floor. It was holding races, roller-skating polo, and “tall hat and high collar” parties.
Sportswear, the artistry of the great dress designers, and the ideas of dress reformers combined to create a new esthetic of dress to match the evolving new style of beauty. “Reform dress” had long been preached, and sometimes wom, in radical and artistic circles.
Dress reformers objected to corsets, and to fashions such as the erinoline and the bustle which distorted the figure, for they believed that dress should follow the natural shape of the human form. The most famous example of reform clress was Amelia Bloomer’ s trousered costume of 1850 – named “bloomers” after its originator. Similarly reformers disliked men’ s trousers and preferred breeches, since they revealed the calf; the Irish playwright George Bemard Shaw was a clress reformer and habitually wore “plus fours”. Sportswear influenced women’ s daytime costumes.
The role of women in this bright dawn of the bicycle age was limited but none the less well recognized. The high-wheeled machine was too much for them, but they were given the tricycle. Here was recreation on “a higher plane than the ball-field or the walking rink,” an outdoor activity which marked “a step towards the emancipation of woman from her usually too inactive indoor life.” In this vigorous propaganda to promote female cycling, The Wheelman also called upon the support of ministers and physicians. Bicycling was both godly and healthy. One word of warning, from A Family Physician: “Do not think of sitting down to table until you have changed your underclothing, and, after a delightful wash and rub-down, quietly and leisurely dressed again.”
The firm of Redfems in London, which had originally specialized in riding habits, developed a modification of riding wear that became the “coat and skirt”, or woman’s suit.This rapidly became virtually a uniform for women’ s street wear, both in Europe and in the United States. It created a new kind of sobriety, almost a mascu1inity, in women’s outdoor wear.
In the United States the magazine artist Charles Dana Gibson created the epitome of this style in his famous “Gibson GirI”, atall, graceful young woman whose severe white blouse and dark, svelte skirt only enhanced her femininity. A fashion developed for frothy petticoats which peeped from beneath the hems of these sober skirts. it was during this period, when women’ s ordinary daywear became less feminine, that glamorous lingerie began to be popular. Club runs were the fashion. The cyclists mounted to the bugle call of “Boots and Saddles,” and sober pedestrians watched in awe as they wheeled past in military formation.
It was also the era of impressive bicycle parades, competitive club drills, hill-climbing contests, and race meetings. On July 4, 1884, news of the bicycle world included a meet on the Boston Common drawing thousands of spectators; a parade of seventy cyclists at Portsmouth, New Hampshire; the first club run of the Kishwaukee Bicycle Club at Syracuse, Illinois; races for the Georgia championship at Columbus; and medal runs at Salt Lake City. Thomas Stevens was off on his famous bicycle trip around the world, and in New York a bicycle school with thirty uniformed instructors was teaching Wall Street bankers to wheel to band music.
Before 1800 underwear as we know it hardly existed. A shift was wom to protect the body from the rough material of the dothes, and the dothes from dirt of the body. The advance of hygiene and emphasis on modesty contributed to the popularity of underwear in the 19th century, but until about 1900 it was strictly utilitarian.
With the tum of the century women were being more overtly sexual, as the rigid distinctions between the “respectable” and the “fallen” woman began to dissolve, and in the first decade of the 20th century fashionable women revelled in crepe de chine underwear in “sweet pea” colors, covered in lace and ribbons. Unlike outerwear, the se confections were stili mostly hand-made.
The paradox of reserved outerwear and luxuriously sensual lingerie symbolized the way in which public life and private life had both become more elaborate and more distinct from each other during the industrial period. Sociallife was now more ritualized for most dasses, and this found expressian in equally elaborate rituals of dress. The new, lithe beauty of the sportsfield and dance floor, however, was bom in the attempt to escape just this elaboration.
The story of Westem clress in the 20th century, when for the first time fashionable dothes became widely available, has been one of oscillation between high artifice and studied simplicity, between fashions that glory in their useless glamor and those that are severely functional.
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