1890s Cycling Ensemble Promotional Paper Doll

I recently took a survey where one of the questions was, “How much time do you spend online?” I needed the interviewer to clarify if this was before covid-19, or after. My answer would be vastly different depending on the era – BC or AC.

But the upside is that I have become a better searcher of internet sales sites. I’ve turned up some truly fantastic things for my collection in the past eleven months. A great example is the topic of today’s post. It’s a little standup paperdoll, dressed in Redfern tweeds and holding a Columbia bicycle.

There’s no date, but the sleeves pretty much limit the possibilities to the mid 1890s. Another online pursuit over the past months is that I’ve been reading all the nineteenth century Harper’s Bazar magazines so generously provided by the Cornell Digital Library. It’s been a real education watching the sleeves inflate from the late 1880s through 1896, and then start to deflate by 1897. I’ve also enjoyed tracing the number of articles devoted to certain sports over the years. Tennis and skating were popular throughout the time period covered by the magazines, starting in 1867, but bicycling only becomes a serious topic in 1893, as did golf. It was the increasing popularity of the safety bicycle and the building of golf courses in the United States that brought about the change.

The mention of the matching knickerbockers is interesting. While there were many references to women cyclists wearing knickerbocker suits in the press, especially on comics pages, extant bloomer or knickerbocker suits from the 1890s are very rare. It’s not that women were not wearing pants to ride their bikes, it’s just that for the most part they were wearing them under an ankle-length skirt.

This little note from the January 2, 1897 Harper’s Bazar mentions knickers and bloomers in the context of ice skating, but the use of them was similar when bike riding. For most American women wearing a man’s garment, pants, was just not to be considered, unless it was covered up.

Note the price of the bicycle. The US Inflation Calculator only goes back to 1913, and even then, the bike would cost over $2600 in today’s dollar.

Redfern was a British ladies’ tailoring establishment. It had many high profile clients, such as Alexandra, the Princess of Wales. The New York branch of Redfern opened in the mid 1880s.


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16 responses to “1890s Cycling Ensemble Promotional Paper Doll

  1. Great post! I did a blog post on women’s fashion as perceived by Victorian artists. Then I found a cartoon to include, a woman in a cycling outfit with another, who says to her, “You don’t even own a bicycle!” The cyclist’s response is “But I do own a sewing machine!”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Carla A Petroski

    Does anyone remember the underrated series Larkrise To Candleford? This reminds me of when Miss Lane, the Post Mistress, got a bicycle! Her costumer seems to have done justice to the era!


  3. Carla, yes! Another great set of scenes courtesy of BBC when the lady doctor Eleanor Bramwell in “Bramwell” gets introduced to the bicycle and later there is a scene where her maid helps her adapt a full Victorian skirt into a riding skirt!


  4. patty azzarello

    The sleeves would have made arm movement far easier, but then are offset by the pouter pigeon style held in by a corset (at least it appears so, though who knows with artistic license) that would have constricted breathing. Did any lady cyclists go rogue and leave off the waist binding, or was it still “fashion before function”?


    • It’s not difficult to ride in a corset. And, they made models especially for active pursuits, shorter and more breathable. Some surely went without, though few would’ve been tight lacing for sports, regardless. The corset served to support bust and back (imagine bike riding without a bra – yikes).


  5. I found it very interesting that the ruffled petticoat was expected to show when the overskirt blew back.


  6. Are you going to share some of your searching secrets with us?


  7. What a find!

    Oof, yes I too have spent more time online as a result of COVID, including more online shopping.


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