Freedom of Movement: the bike, bloomer and female cyclist in late nineteenth century Britain is a sociological research project that seeks to understand what we wear to cycle, by thinking about what we have worn.
The project explores how the bike, bloomer (and attending ideas of Rational Dress) and the suffrage movement in late C19th Britain helped women carve out new gendered forms of mobile citizenship.
Bloomers are a central focus because in the move from under to outer wear they became symbols of freedom of movement; both physical and ideological.
The project brings history to life by interweaving archival data with new Victorian cycling garments made from 1890s British patents in collaboration with local craftspeople.
1885 to 1900 witnessed a significant shift in the lives of middle and upperclass women in British society. Women rebelled against conventional and restrictive Victorian ideas of femininity which viewed them as largely immobile citizens, dominated by their reproductive responsibilities, physically restricted by contemporary fashion and fundamentally ‘weak’ from lack of exercise and therefore ill-equipped for the demands of public (business, political, education, working) life. The project explores this explosive intersection of new ideas and transformative action through the lens of cycle wear patents designed and lodged by women during this period.
What kinds of cycle wear designs were emerging during this period? What social issues did they reflect and resist?
What role did bloomers play in C19th cycling?
How did they enable/inhibit women’s freedom of movement?
What, if any, stubborn residues of the Victorian ‘lady cyclist’ still remains today?
(ie. How does it shape women’s cycling (and engagement in public space) in contemporary society?)
What can we learn from re-making these garments?
Why does cycle wear (still) matter?
In addition to conducting archival research we are making new Victorian cycle wear based on British patents lodged between 1885-1900 in collaboration with contemporary craft practitioners (a tailor, weaver, filmmaker and illustrator). More here.
We are interested in what we learn by making, wearing and performing research in addition to doing and presenting it.
The project provides the means of experimenting with interdisciplinary collaborators, to explore new practices and alternate ways of representing findings as they emerge. We are interested not only with key themes of mobility, gender and technology but also the ways in which knowledge is made, curated, circulated and shared – ie. The transmissions and entanglements of interdisciplinary collaborations and practice. In drawing attention to our critical making practice, we aim to contribute theoretically and methodologically to the fields of sociology, STS and material culture. See Research Context for more about the project.
The research is supported by an ESRC Knowledge Exchange grant (ES/K008048/1), Intel’s Interaction and Experience Research Lab (Portland, Oregon), Goldsmiths Sociology Department, University of London, and also ISTC, University of California, Irvine.