Late Victorian mid- to late 1890s twilled black wool cycling bloomers achieve their impressive fullness through the more than two dozen flat pleats which billow out from the waistband and are then gathered in above the ankle.
A cleverly gusseted, dropped crotch provides comfort and enhances the ability of the pleats to fall in an unbroken line on top, concealing as much of the bloomers’ bifurcation as possible. They close on the left side with 4 hooks and eyes, and as an 1896 newspaper article about this marvelously “sensible and well fitting” garment explains, “an elastic is run in at the end of each leg so as to keep it in position."
Bloomers, introduced in the 1850s as part of the dress reform movement and sometimes called “Turkish trousers”, became a mainstream garment with the surge in popularity of bicycling for women in the late 19th century. The bicycle had become symbolic of women’s changing role--indeed, abolitionist and suffragist Susan B. Anthony said in 1896 that she thought the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world”—and bloomers were an eminently practical building block in an “emancipated” cycling costume.
The cycling costumes shown in photo #9, all dating from 1896-1898, reflect the range of options available, from “smart” tailored costumes with fitted jackets and flared skirts, to ones that paired a gigot-sleeved white blouse and necktie with bloomers like these. (As the illustration at the lower right, from the Carson Pirie Scott monthly magazine of June 1896, makes clear, cycling costumes often did double duty as tennis, yachting, and general “outing” outfits).
No label or lining is present. Measurements are: Waist 26”, hips 46”, length along outseam 34”, rise 40”, and circumference of leg openings 16.5”.
Very good condition; remarkably sturdy not only for a century-plus old garment, but for one used as active wear. All but hidden in the copious pleats, the minor issues do not compromise the strength of the fabric or the wearability of the garment, and are truly inconspicuous.
The detailed list: Two tiny period mends (one on the crotch gusset and one in back of the right leg at knee level); a ¼” moth hole about 12” to the right of the back knee mend; a thin spot along one seam of the crotch gusset; three tiny whitish marks just below the waistband, three pleats to the right of the hooks; and some ravelling to the wool around the two pairs of hooks and eyes on the waistband. In addition, I believe the top hook may be a replacement. Photos #7 and #8 show these flaws.
Proud Member of the VFG Vintage Fashion Guild