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THE FASHIONABLE CYCLING DRESS


Cycling was all the rage in the summer of 1898. Fashionable women went on excursions into the countryside on their "wheels." Couples used bicycle outings for courting, while the young men showed off their prowess in racing meets.

 

Even though riding the cycle was exercise, women still wanted to be fashionable. As the newspaper noted, "Hardly a self-respecting woman will, of her own free choice, face the all searching summer sunshine in her last year's cycling costume."

 

In the summer of 1898 the stores displayed a variety of practical, yet elegant, outfits for the cycling woman.

 

But it had not always been so. "Once upon a time," said the Daily Journal, "the cyclist was a woman of no importance." However, as more and more upper class women took up the sport, the manufacturers began to pay more attention to their fashion needs.

 

"Now the cyclist is a power in the land. Inventors rack their brains for her benefit; the leading firms vie with each other in providing her with smart costumes, and altogether she is made so much of that it must be difficult for her to remember that Mrs. Grundy once frowned upon her and 'society' was not quite sure whether it would be advisable to pass her by on the other side [of the street]."

 

As a result, the fashion conscious lady cyclist could choose her outfits from "every style from the severely plain to the very showy." Unfortunately, according to the fashion critic at the newspaper, there was a "decided leaning toward the latter."

 

Accordingly, the paper provided some suggestions, to help the ladies avoid the pitfalls of bad taste.

 

A favorite costume, which "strikes a happy medium between the extremes of style," was made of brown cloth. The long coat was belted at the waist with black braid, fastened with a silver buckle. The collar and the lapels, which opened to the waist, were faced with black watered silk. The blouse underneath was made of soft silk in a tiny black and white check, with a large soft bow of the same material at the neck.

 

The whole outfit was crowned with a straw hat in black and white, trimmed with bows of checked silk.

 

When the weather was too warm for a coat, the newspaper recommended the new shirts designed for use with the long full cycling skirts. One of the best designs was made of "very soft fine ivory white flannel," trimmed with a "kilted bow of tender yellow silk at the neck." The front of the blouse was elaborately tucked in three horizontal rows on either side of a center panel. The "leg o' mutton" sleeves were full at the shoulder and more tightly fitted from the elbow to the wrist -- "altogether a very pretty thing."

 

Another, "somewhat more elaborate style of shirt" was made of silk of any color, but "a particularly charming example is in tea rose yellow." The lapels were made of "finely tucked white satin, outlined with a little kilted frill." The full sleeves were "provided with their little satin cuffs."

 

"Woman does not lose her love of pretty things when she takes to the wheel." Manufacturers responded to the demand by designing a variety of soft, feminine outfits, which were still suitable for vigorous outdoor exercise.

 

The country roads and city streets must have provided a fashion show on wheels as the elegant ladies pedaled along in their silks and satins. It also makes one wonder about the effect of the dusty roads and dirt streets upon these fashionable, long-skirted, costumes.