Dressmaker and Costume Historian
Making a Victorian Lady’s Bloomer Suit for Cycling
August 1, 2014
As a Yorkshire girl, I cheered when it was announced that the Tour de France would be coming to my fair county in July 2014. Unfortunately, women do not take part in this prestigious event, despite their phenomenal success in the sport elsewhere. Undaunted, I was inspired to look further into the history of cycling for women, and also the clothes they wore. The 1890s particularly caught my attention, dubbed the decade of the ‘cycling craze’, where the bicycle was the hottest thing in town and the streets were crammed with them every day of the week.
But what did women wear to cycle in? The vast majority struggled with their long skirts but the daring few, emboldened by the fashions they saw in Paris, went abroad modelling the new Bloomer Suit! Unfortunately, the finest example of a Bloomer Suit is on display in the Kyoto Institute of Fashion – a little too far for a research trip.
However, I was able to track down a pattern……..which meant I just had to make one!
The Bloomers pattern was easy to scale up from the book (The Edwardian Modiste, available on Amazon as a reprint).
There wasn’t a pattern labeled as a cycling jacket, but this pattern from the “Keystone” Jacket and Dress Cutter (available on Amazon as a reprint) was very similar to styles I had seen in photographs.
A long afternoon of pattern drafting followed…..
The bloomers were a quick and easy to make as they were unlined (as per the pattern) and just needed simple plackets on each hip and knee for the openings/fastenings, before gathering onto a waistband and cuffs. Though I found one example of the cuffs having elastic, I decided to gather them and have a button fastening.
The jacket was a bigger challenge. Once I had done a toile and fitting I could adjust the pattern. I shortened the front and created a wide peplum at the back (as seen in original photographs/illustrations).
I added layers to the front of the bodice in the form of tailoring canvas, attached with pad stitching, plus cotton backing and tailoring tape to give the wide lapels shape and provide structure to the front of the jacket. I also created a cotton lining for the jacket.
The sleeves were amazing to make as they were so BIG! They are called Leg of Mutton sleeves and for good reason. The huge head of the sleeve was gathered at the top and sides to fit into the armhole. I drafted a simple pattern for an inner-sleeve (as it was not included in the original pattern) in order for the sleeves to keep their shape on the wearer. Plus, I added shoulder pads made from three layers of wadding in decreasing semi-circles to hold the head of the sleeve. Getting them attached to the jacket was quite a feat! I bound them off by hand to neaten them.
Once they were in I concentrated on the collar. This also had to be drafted separately due to the alterations I had made. I lined it with Melton wool which I hand-stitched into place with herringbone stitch.
Finally, a last press and a few long peaceful evenings spent completing 21 (!!) hand buttonholes and sewing on replica brown buttons and the suit was finished.
To complete the outfit I added an original 1890s white cotton blouse with a high neck, pin tucks and fun red spot pattern, from my collection. All I needed now were my replica machine knitted brown Victorian stockings sourced from Sally Pointer, my replica brogues, a red silk bow tie and my original ladies boater hat, trimmed in matching ribbon. I was ready for the road!
My talk “Need for Speed: Victorian Lady Cyclists” was a great success with seven shows in July alone! The audiences loved the Bloomer Suit and the stories of Victorian ladies shocking their neighbors in them. Check out the Events Dairy to see where I will be presenting next or Contact Me to find out how you can book me as a speaker at your next event.