There are several reasons why there are not more material examples of Victorian women’s cycle wear still in existence today, including the fact that they simply wore out and were discarded or were not considered of significant enough importance to keep and donate to museums. Both seem very relevant when thinking about contemporary practice. I regularly wear through my cycle clothes. I mend and re-mend them until that point when I consider them no longer street safe. I cannot say that at any point along this use-trajectory have I considered donating them to national archives!
Another reason for their absence in the nations collections relates to the popular practice of re-use. It is possible that these garments, like many others of the period even by middle and upperclass citizens, were up-cycled into other kinds of garments for other kinds of use/users.
For many people at the start of our period, shopping for clothes was a serious and expensive business. Since very few main outer garments were sold ready-made, this often meant in fact, buying the fabric, trimmings, linings and thread to be made up at home, or given to a dressmaker or tailor. Textiles were comparatively much more expensive than they are today, since so many of the processes were carried out by hand. For the average person, buying material for a garment was a special event – it would be made to last many years, and then perhaps cut down for the children, or re-styled to squeeze a few more seasons’ wear out of it. People in remote areas bought their material from travelling salesmen (2010:108).
– Towzer, J and S, Levitt. (2010) Fabric of Society, A century of people and their clothes 1770-1870, The Gallery of Costume, Manchester, Printed in association with Laura Ashley Publications