Sporting Dress, 1880-1888


History of Costume I 1800-1899

In stock

Select delivery location

  • Stripe
  • Visa Card
  • MasterCard
  • American Express
  • Discover Card
  • PayPal
  • Apple Pay


Astonishing as it may seem, modern dress started in the scientific­ ally blossoming years of the 1880’s when, despite continued bustles and tight lacing, we see woman emerging from her cocoon of ‘fancy dress’ and developing more functional clothes, an up­right carriage and the alert appearance of the phenomenon that is termed the New Woman. Man had no such revolutionary changes, having left the fancy dress parade much earlier owing to a more purposeful way of life, but for his leisure he did allow himself a little freedom from his city uniform. Still with ‘good form’ uppermost in mind he did manage to evolve, for the first time, a costume that was appropriate to his surroundings. The innovation, the Norfolk jacket, in hard­wearing tweed, had pleats back and front to allow for greater ease in movement and he allowed himself, with characteristic conservatism, to return to his long-discarded favourite garment -knee breeches. The discomfort of stockings and bands under the knee has never worried the male and. the unaesthetic line of the top of the boot could be covered by that smart accessory of the armed forces, the gaiter, to save the outfit from too casual an appearance. It was purpose that made the transformation in the look of the, up till then, gentle sexless of education had kept them dependent on the male members of their families until the ‘sixties, when it was reluctantly accepted that a girl’s brain was as capable of absorbing facts as that of a boy and could, if given the opportunity, make use of the information to the benefit of herself or her family. There had been many rebels in earlier years but theirs had been isolated little voices and their way of life hardly altered the current fashion in any way. Their manifestation of independence was through masculine dress or the riding habit, and even the feminist Charlotte Bronte makes it clear that her ‘boyish’ heroine Shirley was feminine in appearance. The bluestocking was still looked upon as something peculiar, but the agitation for female franchise and respectable employment other than as a governess or companion had given woman a purpose and released a number from the purely domestic sphere. By the ‘eighties the number of better educated women had grown and the plaintive voice in the wilderness had become a chorus. Equality is never possible with segregation and it is only when the sexes work, play and think together that an even balance can be maintained. The brisk, strong-minded woman, who had worked so hard to provide the establishments of higher education for Ladies, then carried their campaign still further into the enemy’s lines by advocating, with a brilliant stroke of foresight, healthy exercises and games as part of the curriculum. Punch jibed, as usual, but with a certain element of sentimental pride, as the British public will forgive a lot in a person who can hit a straight ball. The equality of the hunting field had been accepted for many years – now it was the shootin’ and fishin’, and the young male found a whole new excitement, and approach to romance, in the intricacies of a game with a healthy, witty girl. The early essays in enjoying sport, together, had been rather timid and had done nothing to alter appearance. Croquet and archery can be played without great physical strain or disarrangement of clothes, but the skating mania that came in with the ‘seventies needed much skill and practice as well as a more suitable costume. There were even young women who ventured into the mountains, but they were few and the isolation of their surroundings made it possible to shed a long skirt behind a tree when outside the range of prying eyes and complete the venture in decent bloomers. It was participation in masculine games that really put woman on the map, as tennis could hardly be called a male sport in the ‘eighties. It can truthfully be said that women’s emancipation was born, not at the committee meetings of the militant suffragettes, but on the green lawns of England, with the mingling of the sexes, croquet mallet or tennis racket in hand. Once in the open, women’s freedom leapt ahead, as the British middle-class could only approve of this happy arrangement for mixing the young of the sexes, so innocently and healthily under the eyes of their elders. With the advent of the modern bicycle the situation got rather out of hand, as the balance of the girls was perfect and they could, without equal physical strength, free-wheel away in male company, out of sight and control of the elder generation. Freedom of movement and less supervision created a very different physical bearing in the woman of the 1880’s. All this dashing about meant an alteration in the shape of clothes -which to our modern eyes seems exasperatingly timid and slow. The only visible step towards ease of garments was th shortening of skirts. It must be remembered that the great majority of women emerging into a freer world were not rebels; they were merely the products of an enlightened attitude to the needs of woman. Complete freedom and originality were not so easy with the males still holding the purse strings and no provision made for a woman’s comfort or protection in the outside world. It needs an established, fashion-conscious member of society to adopt a mode before it will be accepted by the multitude. In Fran still the seat of high fashion, this new-fangled idea of emancipation for women found little response until the next decade, when the potentialities of exciting new activities gave scope for intriguing clothes. So, the active young woman of the ‘eighties continued to wear the restraining garments of the fashionable world with only a. gradual move towards suitability. England seemed to favour the fine-figured healthy English Rose, as we see from Du Maurier’s cartoons, and ‘Our Lovely Girl Graduate’ of the illustrated journals wears a cross between the fashionable attire and the Aesthetic dress of the Movement that was very influential in the ‘eighties. The masculine element entered later in the decade, in the usual manner of showing independence but, paradoxically, in conjunction with the most feminine symbol of the white woman’s burden – the return of the bustle. It was as if woman was reluctant to abandon all her well-tried armoury too quickly and was anxious to show both sides of her character. The long slim dress of 1877-9 was only suitable for the woman of leisure and there had already been clamouring for a return to a more concealing line, but the hips remained smooth for another four years, and fashion only conceded the shortened skirt and a little ease, in pleats from the knee level. At long last woman had her way and in 1883 the fullness of the skirt was raised round the hips, by sliding up the pad from its lowly position to repose, once more, as an exaggeration of a pronounced female feature. With horizontally swathed hips the question of a tiny waist was of the utmost importance, and an era of breath-taking boning and lacing re-commenced. A nineteen-inch waist is often mentioned as horrifying, but in contemporary articles on beauty it is taken for granted that some women could survive under the pressure of a fifteen-inch belt. With the long tight waist and shorter skirt the figure took on a more upright stance and the shoulder-line rose by gathered fullness to commence the sharp angled look that is characteristic of the last years of the century. The old hankering for change only resulted in what was, after all, a made-over fashion of ten years before – the large protruding bustle. This time, over a wire tournure like a small cage, it reached ridiculous proportions, sticking out at a right-angle to eighteen inches or more. The curious combination of masculine spruceness (high collars, ties and plain shirts) on top, with feminine exaggeration and softness below, is an enlightening manifestation of the struggle still agitating the mind of the woman of fashion in a rapidly changing world.

Additional information

Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm