Bicycle Costume for Women



In 1895, Cosmopolitan magazine threw down the gauntlet and slashed its price to a dime. Its main competitor, McClure’s Magazine, with a circulation of 100,000, had no choice but to retaliate. But Sam McClure needed an injection of capital to do so. He turned to Colonel Albert Pope, manufacturer of Columbia bicycles. Pope lent him the money, on condition he campaigned for a ‘good roads movement’ to pave America’s roads and so make bicycles more usable. In 1893, Congress took up the cause and America started a road-building industry.

Anna de Koven wrote articles under the name ‘Mrs Reginald de Koven.’ This is from her 1895 Cosmopolitan article:

Invention, the angel of the nineteenth century, has abolished space, shattered time, and now with this wonderful machine, the bicycle, is making a determined onslaught upon sickness and old age, despondency, idelness with its resulting crime, and all the ills which mortal flesh is heir to.

To men, rich and poor, the bicycle is an unmixed blessing, but to women it is deliverance, revolution, salvation. It is well nigh impossible to overestimate the potentialities of this exercise in the curing of the common and characteristic ills of womankind, both physical and mental, or to calculate the far-reaching effects of its influence in matters of dress and social reform.

As to dress-reform, the possibilities would, indeed, seem limitless. Since woman has taken up the bicycle it has become more and more apparent every day that its use demands a more or less radical change in their costume.




Ida Trafford Bell’s Article for Harpers Bazar Magazine



As to dress, ‘What shall she wear?’ is a query arising on every occasion of woman’s life, and in the bicycling costume, the same as in any other, there is much room for open sensible discussion and criticism; for upon a wheel, as elsewhere, she must be suitably clad in order to enjoy the benefits the exercise affords, and in this case it is not only a matter of appearing well, but the comfort, the health, the safety of the rider must all be considered; hence the important question among cyclist today is that of the dress.

At present there are four suits more or less worn – the skirt, the divided skirt, knickerbockers, and Turkish bloomers. The question of dress has become so serious and so divided a one that bicycling clubs and associations, as a general thing, have laid down no rules regarding dress, but allow each and every woman to use her own best judgement in clothing herself according to the laws of health, comfort and commonsense, and it is by no means an unusual sight to see members of the same club out for a run clothed in all the different styles of dress in vogue. Many, through custom and force of habit, prefer the conventional skirt, while others again object to it for the reason it requires a wheel some twelve to thirteen pounds heavier than that required for the bloomer or knickerbocker, and also that when riding against the wind it expands into a balloon, and by so doing offers great resistance to the rider, calling forth an unusual degree of physical exertion, and frequently compelling the rider to dismount from sheer exhaustion.




I think, of all the different costumes, the Turkish bloomer is the most popular, for the reasons that it answers every purpose and is less conspicuous, for it can be worn where the knickerbocker or short drop skirt cannot without attracting to itself undue attention and criticism.

Bicycling suits can be made of any of the various materials used for ordinary street dress – that is, in wools, mohairs, serges, and even silks of the darker or mixed shades, the number of yards required varying according to the width of the goods, four yards of forty-eight inch goods being sufficient to make the widest Turkish bloomer suit. Leggings and cap of the same material as suit are usually worn, although that is a matter of taste with the wearer. Braids and buttons to match goods are used as trimming. Some elaborate and expensive suits are made of silk, or cloth with silk braid trimming, but as a rule simple inexpensive suits are worn, thereby permitting the woman of moderate means several changes during the season, as the dust and heat cause a suit to become shabby very soon.




Colonel Albert Pope used Ida Trafford Bell’s article for the pamphlet below, entitled CBicycling for Women, which advertised his Columbia and Hartford range of bicycles.