Motoring and Cycling Gear - As men and women took to the open road around the turn of the century, on two wheels or four, they donned new protective clothing


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Motoring & Cycling Fashion


 As men and women took to the open road around the turn of the century, on two wheels or four, they donned new protective clothing.

 At much the same time as people were taking to cycling - the chain-driven safety bicycle appeared in 1885 - the first cars were also appearing on the roads. Pioneering motorists of the 1890s, high above the road in their open vehicles, were anxious to protect their eyes from flying stones and horseshoe nails and to cover themselves in summer against clouds of dust.

 In the most widely-used style of motoring goggles, the convex eye-glasses were held in nickel or aluminium rims with an elastic strap round the head. Some motorists preferred wire ear-pieces, as on spectacles. An alternative was a one-piece mask or eye-shield of mica.

 Mechanical adjustments were frequent and drivers therefore dressed roughly, wearing high-buttoned reefer jackets, leather waistcoats for extra warmth and breeches and leather leggings rather than trousers. Their favoured headgear was a soft-peaked cap with ear flaps. In winter they needed long overcoats that could be wrapped around their legs.

 The basic winter overcoat was a full-length, double-breasted ulster of woollen cloth with a fur lining. Squirrel from Russia or Germany was a popular lining but it was not as warm as the more expensive musquash or beaver.

 Leather coats had an unmistakable dash and were worn by those who wanted to show off at the wheel, but good taste favoured a coat of sober greyish tweed or Irish frieze. The renowned firms of Burberry and Aquascutum struck just the right note with their waterproofed motoring coats. Burberry's 'Viator' and 'Rusitor' were popular garments. 


 To deal with the problem of dust in summer motorists wore a loose-fitting, light dust coat of alpaca, silk or holland. They were in white, grey or fawn and had sleeves with an elasticated inner cuff or sealed by means of straps.

 Women passengers wore motoring coats similar to men's. To keep the dust out of their hair they wore a wide-brimmed hat and a gauze veil that tied in a bow under the chin. To protect a hair-do or a dressy hat, there were hoods on a rigid wire frame covered with veiling which included a window of mica. Their enveloping heavy fur or tweed coats, teamed with bizarre headgear, explain perfectly why motorists were mocked for their appearance.

 Women's hoods had to protect them from the elements, as well as accommodating their elaborate hairstyles and hats. Women tended to reject goggles as too unattractive. Outfits for children were similar to adults' scaled-down coats, hats and goggles.


 The place to find late Victorian or Edwardian motoring or cycling costume is at a specialist dealer who handles old costumes. Keep an eye out for modern reproduction costumes that may have been made for television costume dramas or for stage plays. They will look superficially convincing but will probably not be finished to the same standard as the originals - linings may be missing and maker's labels may be absent.

 By the turn of the century, working men were cycling to their jobs wearing ordinary clothes, their trousers fastened with bicycle clips. Middle-class cyclists, however, would dress up properly for a ride in the country, in a Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, with thick woollen socks, flat-heeled shoes, a flannel shirt with collar and tie and a cloth cap.


 In the 1890s, daring women had appeared in 'rationals', or knickerbockers, in order to ride bicycles in greater comfort, but moral outrage was so violent that few persevered with the fashion. It was, however, quite common to wear woollen knickerbockers under a long skirt while cycling. Skirts, usually of a plain coloured serge, were adapted in various ways for cycling, some being cut specially to allow the skirt to hang down on either side of the back wheel. Others were weighted with lead around the hem to prevent the shameful exposure of a lady's legs.

 In colder weather, women cyclists often wore a bodice cut in a style very similar to men's Norfolk jackets, but in summer they enjoyed the freedom of cycling in a high buttoned blouse. The garb favoured by the first cyclists in the 1880s was a military-style jacket with a deerstalker or pill-box hat.

 Antique clothing should be carefully stored, either on a mannequin or folded between sheets of acid-free tissue paper in drawers. Bright light, especially sunlight, fades colours and can damage old fabrics. Keep your clothes under dim lighting or in the dark. Rather than being tempted to wear your delicate old clothes for, say, an old car rally, it is much better to get a reproduction set from a theatrical costumier or a costume-hire shop.


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