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Benefits of cycling
Bikes and Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and Their Extraordinary Cycle Wear | Kat Jungnickel

Bikes and Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and Their Extraordinary Cycle Wear | Kat Jungnickel

I’m a sociologist and my work is located
in science and technology studies which means I think about clothing as a tool
or a device that can enable but also inhibit forms of mobility I wasn’t always interested in clothing I had been doing contemporary cycling research and invariably in interviews with people they kept on talking about what they
were wearing about how in some cases looking like a proper cyclist enabled them to
carve out cycling identities but in other cases and women were particularly
articulate about this they would talk about how looking too much like a
cyclist could elicit unwelcome responses from fellow road users and it turns out
quite a lot of these things aren’t new I’ve been looking at a really small
period of British history 1895 to 1899 when lots of middle and upper-class men
and women enthusiastically took to the bicycle however it was considerably
easier initially for men to take to the bicycle because their bodies, society’s
understandings about masculine mobility and public space and also their clothes
meant their bodies fitted much more easily and this is pretty much a story about
how women made their bodies fit with this new technology because nothing was
going to stop them from cycling Anyone who cycles now can imagine what it might have been like to have you know layers of flapping materials around moving mechanical parts however to cycle in more kind of rational clothing was not necessarily socially safer some women cyclists were subjected to rocks and sticks and stones they were denied entry into places and kind of seen as a
threat to society Women in the 1890s were incredibly inventive and they responded to the challenges to their freedom of movement with you know a whole range of ingenious and extraordinary designs women also lodged patents for radical new forms of clothing inventions looking into the archive one in particular that I became incredibly excited by is a series of
patents for convertible cycle wear and here inventors deliberately engineer
technical systems into the infrastructure of skirts to enable
wearers to transform their ordinary street wear into cycle wear and back again so it enabled them to kind of have these secret cycling lives So I worked with a pattern cutter, an artist, a weaver and researchers to remake a collection of these costumes We have been wearing them and thinking about them as live dynamic multi-dimensional storytelling devices because it’s the
combination of the body and the garments with these technological devices sewn
into them that enables them to really make sense So I’m wearing a patented design by Alice Louisa Bygrave she lodged her UK patent in 1895 and it was for improvements in ladies cycling dress from the outside it looks like a really
simple a-line skirt and yet built inside the infrastructure of it in the
waistband, in the seams, in the hems is a secret convertible system which would
clear all of this material from the ground and potentially from flapping
around into the moving parts of your velocipede the same thing is built into
the back so in effect then you’d be wearing your bloomers underneath but
they’re not too much on show and it keeps all the materials out of the way of the wheels and also creates what she called a garment that festooned over the hips So I was interested in research as a form of making and making as a form of research it provided an opportunity to invite people actually into the research by running sewing workshops and what we were calling show and tell and try on
events where people could actually get into the costumes and feel for
themselves how they both enabled and also inhibited mobility and to transform
them themselves and there is something really delightful about getting into a
costume that has these multiple and secret identities what’s fascinating to me is that their designs were concealed they were deliberately built into the
infrastructure of dresses kind of hidden in plain sight and I think this is why, one of the reasons why we don’t know a lot about these designs now

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